Labour MP unfairly sacked senior adviser who called him a ‘first class idiot’

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Khalid Mahmood - Darren Quinton/Birmingham Mail
Khalid Mahmood - Darren Quinton/Birmingham Mail

A Labour MP unfairly sacked a senior adviser and ex-girlfriend after she called him a “first class idiot” in an email with Sir Keir Starmer copied in, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Khalid Mahmood fired Elaina Cohen, his long term aide, after she sent him a series of messages accusing him of being “bullying”, “spiteful” and an “insecure crooked womaniser.”

The former shadow minister - an MP for more than 20 years - dismissed Ms Cohen, who he had previously dated for several years, for disrespecting and trying to intimidate him.

But the tribunal ruled that by overseeing the disciplinary process himself and deciding to fire her, the 61-year-old had treated her unfairly.

In addition, the MP’s decision to stop talking to her after she accused one of his parliamentary staff of being involved in illegal activity made her feel isolated, the panel ruled.

Compensation may be reduced because of behaviour

He will now have to pay her compensation, although the amount may be reduced due to her behaviour, the tribunal said.

The hearing in central London was told that Ms Cohen started to work for the MP for Birmingham Perry Barr in his House of Commons office in 2003.

They entered a “romantic relationship” shortly afterwards which ended in 2005 at the earliest, the panel was told.

Following their break-up, Ms Cohen continued to work for Mr Mahmood but their relationship became increasingly “dysfunctional”.

On October 11 2020, the tribunal heard the pair spent an afternoon “duelling” over email.

As part of that exchange, Mr Mahmood copied Sir Keir, the Labour leader, into an email that referenced her “first class idiot” comment.

The following month after the death of the MP’s father-in-law, Ms Cohen sent him a “crass and insensitive” email, the hearing was told, concluding with the remark “I am daily astounded at the shenanigans in the parliamentary office.”

Mr Mahmood then launched formal disciplinary action against Ms Cohen making five allegations against her including her emails which led to him firing her in January 2021.

Ms Cohen took him to the tribunal and won her claims for unfair dismissal relating to the process and having suffered a detriment due to her whistleblowing.

Claims for discrimination and harrassment dismissed

However, her claims for religious discrimination and harassment - she was the only Jew on Mr Mahmood’s staff - were dismissed.

The panel concluded that although her actions may have amounted to gross misconduct, the way her sacking was carried out was unfair.

“Mr Mahmood was the complainant, he chaired the investigation meeting, presided over the disciplinary hearing and made the decision to dismiss and also heard the appeal.

“We have concluded that not to have at least one other decision-maker as part of this overall process took it outside of the range of reasonable responses.”

In addition, the decision to cut off full contact with her after her allegations of January 2020 were wrong, the tribunal found.

“There was some need for communication,” the panel said. “By his own admission he had stopped speaking to her on the telephone.  He had no contact with her by Zoom.

“To a large part he cut off communication with her. The Tribunal finds that fact that he did not is partly attributable to the protected disclosures.”

A hearing to determine Ms Cohen’s compensation will be held at a later date.