A Labor MP has wrongly sacked his aide and ex-girlfriend after she felt “marginalized and isolated” in the months leading up to her job loss, a court has found.
Elaina Cohen accused Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood of sacking her after raising concerns to him, under whistleblowing regulations, about an employee she claimed was a “criminal abuser”.
Mr Mahmood claimed Ms Cohen was instead sacked for breaking Parliamentary Office protocols and sending him “derogatory” and “offensive” emails, one of which described him as a “first-class idiot” sent to the Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer.
After a six-day hearing in London in May, the court found Ms Cohen wrongly dismissed.
A disclosure protection lawsuit also succeeded because she was “marginalized and isolated” from January 2020 until her dismissal a year later.
However, three other remaining allegations – including that the dismissal was motivated by racial and religious discrimination and a direct result of whistleblowing – were unfounded and were dismissed.
At the hearing in central London, it was heard that Ms Cohen began working for Mr Mahmood in his office in the House of Commons in 2003.
They formed a “romantic relationship” shortly thereafter that ended in either 2005 or 2008, the panel was told.
However, their relationship became strained over the years as the couple continued to work together.
On October 11, 2020, the couple spent a Sunday afternoon “dueling” over emails, which resulted in Mr Mahmood forwarding their correspondence – including the “first rate idiot” comment – to Sir Keir.
A month later, the hearing heard that Ms Cohen sent Mr Mahmood a “blatant and insensitive” email following the death of his father-in-law and later sent him an “inappropriate and unnecessary” email with a copied element calling him several names, including a “wife cheat” and “jealous”.
“In short, this was something of a ‘poison pen’ email that was deemed by the plaintiff to be offensive to the respondent,” read Labor Judge Tim Adkin’s decision.
A formal disciplinary case was then launched in January 2021 by Mr Mahmood, who detailed five allegations against her.
She was then released on January 27 of that year.
The panel concluded that while three of the five allegations listed by Mr Mahmood were “reasonable enough to believe that there was wrongdoing”, the manner in which her dismissal was carried out was “beyond the range of reasonable answers”.
The panel added it had accepted a claim for damages after Mr Mahmood failed to contact them in 2020.
“The court accepts the Claimant’s evidence that from January 2020 until her release, she felt marginalized and isolated,” it said.
“We note that the Respondent, who had been in a rather dysfunctional relationship with the Claimant over the past several years, offered very little contact or support during 2020. This was potentially adverse treatment.”
Following the arbitral tribunal’s findings, Mr Mahmood said in a statement: “I am pleased with the outcome of the judgment, which states: ‘We find that the main reason for the dismissal of the plaintiff was her conduct. In her testimony before the Tribunal, the Claimant appeared to give little credence to the suggestion that her communications to the Respondent were inappropriate and offensive.
In short, this was something of a “poison pen” email, which the Claimant deemed offensive to the Respondent
Labor Judge Tim Adkin
“Whether that was a lack of insight into her effect on others or a reluctance to make an admission at the hearing is less clear. Nevertheless, the court considers that the plaintiff’s abusive style of communication and her propensity to involve older people in her private conflict with the respondent was the main reason for her dismissal.
“The Claimant has not established that the decision to dismiss was related to her race, religion or belief.
“Ms. Cohen had five reasons for leaving. The court concluded that three of the five were confirmed.”
A two-day appeal hearing is scheduled for September 29-30.