Sunday, 29 July 2012

PRESS RELEASE: Racial Discrimination/Unfair dismissal at New College, Oxford University: Employment Tribunal starts tomorrow.

Press Release  29th July 2012

The Employment Tribunal hearing is on Monday 30th July 2012, Tuesday 31st July 2012, Wednesday 1st August 2012, Thursday 2nd August 2012 and Friday 3rd August 2012 at 10am at Employment Tribunals, 4th Floor, 30/31 Friar Street, Entrance in Merchants Place, Reading, Berkshire RG1 1DY.


 I was contacted by a black chef, Gregory Lewis who worked at New College, Oxford University for eight years. He was treated extremely badly and there was clearly racial discrimination involved. The director of the Race Equality Council in Oxford advised him to take a claim to Employment Tribunal, which he did. He was unable to access legal assistance. Gregory contacted me because he could not understand why the tribunal hearing, which found in New College’s favour, seemed to have been conducted in a way that seemed to practically ignore the evidence they presented, whilst overlooking lies, inconsistencies and a total disregard for equality legislation on the part of New College.

The legal process has been a long drawn out one. Gregory has been suffering from depression and anxiety caused by the racial discrimination he experienced since October 2008 and the stress of legal proceedings has exacerbated his condition.

New College staff blatantly lied under oath during the tribunal hearing last July. The HR Officer had no idea of what the specific duties of Higher Education Establishments were under the RRA (amendment) 2000. There was no monitoring in place to ensure there was no racial discrimination in any of their policies, such as disciplinary action, access to training and promotion; the only equal opportunities monitoring with regard to racial group that New College had in place, was a tick box on their application form.

Gregory Lewis had been interviewed for the role of head chef, after being a second chef at Oxford University for twenty years, eight of those at New College. There had never been a black head chef at an Oxford University college. At that time, as second chef, Gregory held the highest position of any black member of staff at New College. (He was acting head chef for over a year). There were no black fellows, tutors or managers. They interviewed Gregory along with other candidates, none of whom were taken on. New College management advised Gregory to go on a course to better his chances of getting the still vacant, head chef’s position. They did not offer him the opportunity to go on this course before the interview, but during cross examination, the catering manager said that he ‘would not have employed anyone who did not have the qualification already ‘unless they were a Jamie Oliver’, so the interview was a farce unless they believed that a black chef might at any time morph into a white TV chef!

While he was away on the course (and still acting head chef as far as he knew), the college took on a new (white) head chef through the back door without even letting Gregory know, totally humiliating him in front of his colleagues. The message was clear: the black man does not deserve any respect. The person they took on had not even made the shortlist for the original interview and had no experience in a university setting.

The original interview notes (received during legal proceedings) made rude comments about Gregory Lewis that were clearly based on racial stereotyping, making him out to have a slave mentality and unable to follow instructions or understand what they were asking of him. This was a chef that had won many awards during his time working at Oxford University colleges and received many compliments in writing from important guests.

New College management embarked on a series of actions designed to intimidate Gregory and force him out of his job. In the end he was too ill to work and they dismissed him on grounds of medical capability.

The judge and lay members at the Employment Tribunal in Reading were dismissive of the evidence given that management had racially stereotyped Gregory, and the judge said that ‘being lazy and stupid is not a stereotype of a black man’. Evidence was provided to show this, but it was ignored. Gregory had a long list of grievances but the tribunal judge and panel skimmed over them and let New College and their representative dictate what was mentioned. When I met him he was mentally and physically exhausted by the whole process and had lost complete faith in the system that was supposed to protect him from racial discrimination. I told him to keep fighting; the truth was on his side and the law was supposed to be as well!

I helped him to set up a campaign to highlight the racial discrimination at Oxford University colleges. This was before David Lammy exposed Oxford University’s appalling record on admitting black students and employing black fellows. We submitted Freedom of Information requests which uncovered the fact that many Oxford colleges were flouting equality laws and were, in some cases, arrogantly unconcerned about it. EHRC, on receiving the information provided by the campaign, wrote to Oxford University’s Vice Chancellor telling him to remind Oxford colleges, which are autonomous, of their duties under equality law.
When Gregory Lewis received the judgement from the Employment Tribunal in writing, he was shocked to find that not only had the judge disregarded what he had said about racial stereotyping, he had substituted his own racial stereotype, saying that he thought he was stereotyped as a black Caribbean man as being ‘laid back to the extreme’!

At the London Employment Appeal Preliminary Hearing, the judge and panel were not impressed that the Reading Employment Tribunal judge and panel, regularly hearing cases of racial discrimination, appeared to have little understanding of racial stereotyping. (The lay members at Reading Employment Tribunal had agreed with the judge that being lazy and stupid was not a racial stereotype of a black man!).The Employment Appeal Tribunal were also concerned that the case appeared to have been tried as an unfair dismissal case with little regard to the racial discrimination side of the case.

I would like to know what training Employment Tribunal judges and lay members have with regard to equal opportunities and race issues. If they are as ignorant on race issues, as those that conducted Gregory Lewis’s case, it is no wonder that so few people are successful in bringing racial discrimination cases against their employer. Employment law is a totally uneven playing field, with claimants having little access to legal assistance and employers like those from Oxford University having unlimited funds to fight their victims. I understand why most of them give up, the threats of costs and the stress is unbearable in a lot of cases.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal ordered that the case of Gregory Lewis V New College, Oxford University was subject to a full Appeal Hearing in London. Nothing will change until we insist that the laws against racial discrimination are upheld. Black people suffering racial discrimination at work should not be experiencing it all over again in the Employment Tribunals and courts that are their only recourse.

Judgement of the Employment Appeal Tribunal:

Unfortunately, Gregory’s situation is not unfamiliar. I have spoken to many black people, who have experienced similar treatment when applying for promotion. We as a people should be long past the stage where, when trying to progress through hard work and dedication, we are regarded as ‘uppity’ and expected to shuffle our feet, say ‘yes massa’, and be grateful for whatever lowly position these institutionally racist employers decide we are good enough for.

Victory at Employment Appeal Tribunal Hearing

The hearing took place on October 14th 2011. The judge in the original Employment Tribunal hearing made submissions for the appeal which included this statement regarding racial stereotyping:

‘It was, of course, the Claimant and his representative who raised the question of “stereotypical” views of Black Caribbean males. I still do not believe that there is a stereotypical view of Black Caribbean males being “lazy and stupid”. They may have a more “relaxed” approach to life than other ethnic groups but that is not in any way a derogatory assessment and in any event was not in reality a relevant feature in this case. The Tribunal was unanimously satisfied that the Respondent’s assessment of the Claimant was as identified of paragraph 51 of the Written Reasons which related purely to the assessment of the Claimant as an individual and was not based on any stereotypical view of male Caribbeans’. (Judge Coles)

The EAT judgement (MR G F LEWIS v NEW COLLEGE OXFORD) says: ‘We agree with Ms Robinson (acting for Gregory Lewis on behalf of the Bar Pro Bono Unit and only instructed on the morning of the hearing) that here the judge has at least given the appearance of holding a stereotypical view, in that he takes a view that a more relaxed approach to life is exhibited by Black Caribbean males, than by other groups. In our judgment, that is inappropriate. It is put as an allegation of actual bias but we prefer to regard it, and we uphold it, as being an allegation of apparent bias.

Given that there was evidence as to stereotypes, it ought to have been dealt with and not been the substitution of a view by the judge. The matter which worried Judge Hand’s division of this Tribunal was the finding by the judge and Mr Cameron in their subsequent comments, that there was no such attitude towards Black Caribbean men in this country, a view which surprised very much the lay members in Judge Hand’s division and Judge Hand too.

In that respect, it is a matter that we too might have a view about. Since there is no challenge before us to the evidence which Ms Ruskin (Gregory Lewis’s partner who represented him at the Employment Tribunal) says she put before the Tribunal as to a divergent view of two universities (we have not seen it), we consider that there would have been substance in her submission and it was not fair for the Tribunal to form such a view.’

Smugness and Superiority exhibited by New College Oxford management: Snobbery or racism?

From the EAT judgement: ‘Further, we consider there is substance in Ms Robinson’s point that given that at least Mr Cameron considered that the witness team from New College was smug and superior, that should have been a matter which was dealt with in the Judgment in accordance with its duty to make inferences. Were they smug and superior because they were above a mere chef? Or was it anything to do with the fact that he was Black Caribbean?’

(In fact Judge Coles said in his written comments to the EAT that: ‘I note that in the comments from the member Mr Cameron he refers to the facial expressions of the University witnesses and observers potentially being described as having ‘an air of being smug and superior’ and that was certainly a perception which all members of the tribunal reached’).

‘Particularly in the light of what Ms Robinson contends is a highly dismissive superior and arrogant approach by Dr Parrott in responding to the Claimant when he raised the issue of what “Mr Pangloss” meant.’(A comment made by Dr Parrott about Gregory Lewis during his interview). ‘The don was to produce a three-page essay which had some unfortunate epithets about stupidity and malice. Irony was not what was called for. The Tribunal ought to have decided these matters in relation to whether or not there was any race discrimination involved in the decision to dismiss in the light of all that material.’

‘As a matter of law, the Claimant is entitled to a fair hearing by three persons who all have an open mind and who make decisions on the basis of what they hear together. If one of them does not meet that test, then the decision must be set aside.’

The decision of the original tribunal has been set aside and remitted to a freshly constituted panel at the Employment Tribunal.

Lee Jasper

Campaign For Racial Equality at Oxford University

Gregory Lewis,
Lee Jasper,
Press Release on behalf of Lee Jasper and The Campaign for Racial Equality at Oxford University.
Gregory Lewis: worked as a chef in Oxford University kitchens for 18 years
Racism: Oxford University students 'blacked up' for a  'bop'

Lee Jasper: human rights and equality campaigner

Gregory Lewis, left, with the Reverend Jesse Jackson who has spoken out about the lack of black students at Oxford.

Press coverage
The Voice have been extremely accurate in their coverage of this case, it is much appreciated.