“Gollywog” reference held by Employment Tribunal to be racial harassment

MoJA chef’s use of the word “gollywog” in front of a black colleague when referring to the old Robertsons jam jar label has been held by the Court of Appeal to constitute harassment.

Ms Denise Lindsay, 45, was working for the London School of Economics as a chef when the incident occurred at work. Mr Mark McAleese, who was also working as a chef, was speaking to another colleague about the Robertson jam jar when Ms Lindsay overheard the word being used. Ms Lindsay claimed that she was offended by the use of the word and subsequently made an Employment Tribunal claim for racial harassment.

The Central London Employment Tribunal originally upheld Ms Lindsay’s claim, holding that the use of the word created an “intimidating, degrading working environment” for her to work in at the University. However, the London School of Economics subsequently appealed and were successful at the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Ms Lindsay then appealed again and the matter reached the Court of Appeal this week.

The Court of Appeal upheld the original Employment Tribunal’s judgment, finding that “the most likely explanation was that Mr McAleese had used the word because of Miss Lindsay’s race”. Lord Justice Floyd, who gave the reasoning for the judgment stated “I have already accepted that the term ‘gollywog’ if used directly towards the appellant would be obviously racist and offensive. It was a word which he recognised could cause serious offence, at least if used insensitively. The tribunal was entitled to infer from the findings of fact which it did make that the most likely explanation was that Mr McAleese had used the word because of the appellant’s race.”

Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented: “The Court of Appeal clearly felt in this instance that the person in question had the purpose of potentially making the Claimant feel that the workplace was intimidating or degrading”.