The claimant in Quality Solicitors CMHT v Tunstall brought a tribunal claim following her dismissal, including an allegation that a colleague used the words "She is Polish but very nice" or "She is Polish and very nice" about her to a client. The issue was whether such a comment could meet the definition of harassment on the grounds of race; in other words, whether it was "unwanted conduct" which had the purpose or (as was claimed in this case) the effect of violating the claimant's dignity or creating an "intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment" for her.
One incident can on its own amount to harassment; in Richmond Pharmacology v Dhaliwal a reference made, by the employer, to the possibility of an Indian employee being "married off in India" was sufficient. A tribunal is entitled to take into account the claimant's own viewpoint as well as the context but can only decide that the conduct has the effect of violating the claimant's dignity where it could reasonably have been perceived as doing so.
The EAT in Tunstall concluded that, on the facts, the single remark was not capable of satisfying the definition of harassment; it was not objectively reasonable for it to have violated the claimant's dignity or created the proscribed environment. The remark – which the EAT thought was probably an introductory comment made to a client to encourage them to use the claimant's services – had to be viewed in the light of the tribunal's description of the claimant as “a sensitive woman who took things to heart”.