A High Street cafe has been fined thousands for racially discriminating against a former employee after allegedly accusing her of “people smuggling”.

The Polly Tearooms in Marlborough, owned by David Clark MBE and his wife Anne, was found to have racially discriminated against former employee Natalia Zeh at a tribunal in Bristol.

They were ordered to pay £7,500 in compensation and were also found guilty of breaching her contract and deducting wages without authorisation.

The Clarks said they will be appealing the ruling.

Ms Zeh, who is originally from Poland, started working at the tearooms in April 2021.

She informed the Clarks she was leaving the role in November 2021, and gave written notice, after alleging she had “problems with the owners” and claiming she was overworked.

But she says she was not fully paid during her notice period and received messages insinuating she was involved in smuggling people in and out of the country.

Swindon Advertiser: Natalia Zeh and her new employer Jennifer DineenNatalia Zeh and her new employer Jennifer Dineen (Image: Natalia Zeh)

She said: “Anne sent me highly inappropriate and racist messages and accused me of smuggling people across the border.

“She wanted my passport after I had left the job, and her husband accused me of stealing before going back on that two days later.

“It cost a lot of money and time to fight them, but I was treated very badly and everyone should know what kind of people they are.”

Screenshots used as evidence in the tribunal appear to show Mrs Clark saying the business has been “checking passports of foreigners” during the pandemic as “people are travelling illegally, being driven to other countries and smuggled in and out.”

Mrs Clark insists there was no racist intent behind the comments, which she says referred to people breaking Covid-19 travel rules, and claims Ms Zeh is intent on “destroying” her business.

She added: “I have never made a racist remark in my life… I employ a multiracial workforce and created jobs for many Ukrainian nationals in the last year.”

Swindon Advertiser: The Polly TearoomsThe Polly Tearooms (Image: Newsquest)

“There was no racist intention in my text, we were required by the government to check passports of foreign nationals due to the new Brexit rules.”

An employment judge also upheld Ms Zeh’s claim she had not received the entirety of her final wage packet.

Mr Clark provided a witness statement accepting Ms Zeh was owed a sum of £423.38, which was paid ahead of the tribunal, but was also ordered to pay £78.37 in unpaid tips, £480 for breach of contract and £960 for failing to provide her with a written statement.