University Worker Accused Of Racism After Referring To Colleague As 'Hash Brown'
A Newcastle University employee has been sacked for using racist language after claiming auto-correct on his email had changed a colleague's name to 'Hash Brown'.
People services administrator Ollie de Planta de Wildenberg was dismissed just four days into working full-time at the university after sending a message which contained 'perceived offensive, racial language'.
Mr de Planta de Wildenberg has been left bemused at his 'unfair' dismissal, claiming that the name of the female colleague had auto-corrected to 'Hash Brown' on Outlook.
The 28-year-old says he was unaware of his mistake until he was spoken to by his line manager the following morning, on September 26.
He said: "When I was told, I just thought 'oh my days'. I had not met or spoken to this woman before so I had no reason to call her a name.
"It was an informal meeting and he was laughing about it. He just told me to be more careful in the future and I thought that was the end of it."
But just a matter of hours later he was called into a disciplinary hearing where he was told there was an ongoing investigation into gross misconduct with the email being treated as a racial incident.
Later that day he was shown the door after university bosses were unable to replicate the auto-correct.
Mr de Planta de Wildenberg, who lives with his parents in Gosforth, said: "Hash brown is not a racist term. It is a breakfast item.
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"It is a bit weird thing to call someone that intentionally. Why would I do it? To class it as gross misconduct is just unbelievable. I didn't realise initially just how serious they were taking it.
"The sanction bears no resemblance to what happened. I strenuously deny that this message had been sent deliberately. It was a typing error. There is nothing to suggest this is racist."
Mr de Planta de Wildenberg was an agency staff member for five months before being taken on as a Newcastle University employee just days before the incident.
He also claims that the university did not follow its own disciplinary procedure after giving him just 10 minutes to prepare for a formal meeting instead of the minimum notification of five working days.
At his appeal hearing on October 25, Ollie was shown an email from the recipient of the email which he says 'made light' out of the incident.
But the decision was upheld, with the university stating in a letter: "I believe that in the balance of probability that you did type the words in question and that the words were perceived as offensive and involving racial language."
Mr de Planta de Wildenberg has resorted to taking on odd jobs as a kitchen porter, waiter and barman just to make ends meet following his dismissal.
He said: "I'm just doing anything I can at the moment. It's terrible to think I'm now peeling potatoes on the back of this instead of progressing my career.
"If I had done something worthy of being sacked then fair enough. But no one I have spoke to about this is in agreement with the university.
"No one wants to see racism or prejudice in the workplace. Accidentally calling someone a hash brown is not racist. I was speechless when I was told I was sacked. How can someone perceive it as racism?"
A Newcastle University spokesperson said: "We can confirm Oliver de Planta de Wildenberg is no longer employed by Newcastle University."
Featured Image Credit: NCJ Media