Jewish adviser unfairly sacked by Labour MP says employment tribunal

Khalid Mahmood sacked Elaina Cohen for allegedly disrespecting and trying to intimidate him


A Jewish adviser was unfairly sacked after branding her Labour MP boss a "first-class idiot" in an email copied to party leader 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 an "insecure crooked womaniser", the tribunal recorded in its judgment. 

The former shadow Cabinet member -- an MP for more than 20 years -- dismissed Ms Cohen, whom he had previously dated for several years, for allegedly 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 politician 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.

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 recorded. "(He) rarely replied.”

In one 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."

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 Mahmood 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 Sir Keir Starmer 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 won her claims for unfair dismissal relating to the process and suffering 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.”

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

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