Senior adviser unfairly sacked after branding Labour MP boss 'cruel'
Senior adviser was unfairly sacked after branding her Labour MP boss a ‘first class idiot’, tribunal rules
- Khalid Mahmood fired aide Elaina Cohen after she accused him of being ‘cruel’
- Labour MP dismissed Ms Cohen who he had previously dated for several years
- The tribunal ruled that by overseeing the disciplinary process himself and deciding to fire Ms Cohen, the 61-year-old had treated her unfairly
A senior adviser was unfairly sacked after branding her Labour MP boss a ‘first class idiot’ in an email copied into Sir Keir Starmer, an employment tribunal has ruled.
Khalid Mahmood fired his long-term aide Elaina Cohen after she sent him a series of messages accusing him of being ‘cruel’, ‘bullying’, ‘spiteful’ and and an ‘insecure crooked womaniser’.
The former shadow Cabinet member – 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.
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 Bar 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.
Khalid Mahmood fired his long-term aide Elaina Cohen (after she sent him a series of messages accusing him of being ‘cruel’, ‘bullying’, ‘spiteful’ and and an ‘insecure crooked womaniser’
Following their break-up, Ms Cohen continued to work for Mr Mahmood but their relationship became increasingly ‘dysfunctional’ with multiple Whatsapp messages and emails exchanged.
‘(Ms Cohen) frequently fumed and ruminated in such communications making bitter and provocative remarks directed at (Mr Mahmood) mixed in with information relating to the business of his office,’ the tribunal heard. ‘(He) rarely replied.’
For example, in a WhatsApp message sent on 2 January 2020, Ms Cohen wrote: ‘So sorry to remind you that I’m a member of your staff I haven’t heard from you in relation to Parliament since election.
‘If this continues I’m just going to do my own thing as I have since 2005 when you decided I was surplus to requirements due to favours & new female admirers & girlfriends.. happy new year.’
The tribunal was told that in 2019 Mr Mahmood had given a parliamentary pass to a charity worker, Saraya Hussain, with whom Ms Cohen clashed.
In January 2020 Ms Cohen met with a whistleblower who alleged Ms Hussain had been blackmailing, grooming and bullying vulnerable charity service users.
She reported what she had been told to West Midlands police and told Mr Mahmood that vulnerable individuals had been encouraged to shoplift, as well as making allegations of charity fraud.
However, the police investigation came to nothing and Ms Cohen said Mr Mahmood ‘went ballistic and accused me of lying. He accused me of making more trouble for Saraya Hussain because I was jealous.’
As part of that exchange Mr Mahmood copied in Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer (pictured) into an email that referenced her ‘first class idiot’ comment
Following this, Ms Cohen said she was excluded from parliamentary staff Zoom calls while Mr Mahmood’s communications with her dried up, leaving her feeling ‘marginalised and isolated’.
In February 2020 she messaged him to call him a ‘spiteful, untrustworthy, liar womaniser…you brought this on yourself. Serves you right.
Another message that month accused him of ‘catfishing’ = a slang term for someone who uses a fake or misleading photograph in a social media or online dating context.
It read: ‘Cat fishing women is nt (sic) a crime but when you are an MP and do it on your MP Facebook it’s unethical.. especially with your history… as a continuing victim to this day of trusting a crooked womaniser if for nothing else you deserve a front page on your sleaze.’
On 23 August 2020, the tribunal heard Ms Cohen emailed Mr Mahmood: ‘If I were to put all our messages over the years into the public domain most would regard you as a first class idiot’.
Their relationship deteriorated further, the panel heard, with Mr Mahnood accusing her of unprofessionalism and suggesting she go off sick from work.
The tribunal was told that on 11 October the pair spent a Sunday afternoon ‘duelling by emails’.
As part of that exchange Mr Mahmood copied in Labour Party leader Sir Keir into an email that referenced her ‘first class idiot’ comment.
On 23 August 2020, the tribunal heard Ms Cohen emailed Mr Mahmood (both pictured above): ‘If I were to put all our messages over the years into the public domain most would regard you as a first class idiot’.
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.
He told her: ‘You have repeatedly disrespected me, calling me names and copying in additional people to emails sent from you to me in order to intimidate me, make me feel discomforted, and to damage my reputation.
‘I believe your actions have potentially brought me into disrepute and your actions have made me feel harassed and bullied.’
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.
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.
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