New panel to hear black chef’s case against New College-Oxford

Gregory Lewis, a black chef accusing New College, Oxford University of racial discrimination and unfair dismissal, has won an appeal against a decision by the Employment Tribunal rejecting his case. The case will now be heard by a new panel at the Employment Tribunal.

Mr. Lewis worked as the second chef at Oxford University colleges for about 18 years. He spent eight of those years working at New College, Oxford until he applied for promotion.

Mr. Lewis was interviewed for the role of head chef. At that time, as second chef, Mr. Lewis held the highest position of any member of catering staff at New College. He was even an acting head chef for over a year. 

altMr. Lewis who all along was convinced he qualified for the post, only discovered that he did not meet the job specification during the hearing for unfair dismissal and racial discrimination at Employment Tribunal in Reading. “The catering manager admitted, under oath, that I never would have got the promotion for that reason. All the other candidates were white and met the specification,” Mr. Lewis says.

In any case after the interviews, none was appointed the head chef. Mr. Lee Jasper, a race equality campaigner who has been assisting Mr. Lewis says that New College management advised Mr. Lewis to go on a course to better his chances of getting the still vacant post.

“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!” says Mr. Jasper.

Mr. Lewis also wonders why he was interviewed for the job in the first place.

While Mr. Lewis was away on the course, and still acting head chef as far as he knew, the college hired a new white head chef without even letting him know.

It later on emerged during the legal proceedings that the original interview notes contained rude comments about Mr. Lewis, clearly based on racial stereotyping. They claimed he had “a slave mentality and unable to follow instructions or understand what they were asking of him,” Mr. Jasper says, adding that such claims were being about “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 then “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,” says Mr. Jasper.

A campaign set up by Mr. Lewis, Mr. Jasper and others submitted Freedom of Information requests which uncovered the fact that many Oxford colleges were flouting equality law 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,” says Mr. Jasper.

Mr. Lewis could not understand why the Employment Tribunal in Reading dismissed his case after conducting it in a way that seemed to practically ignore the evidence they had presented. He also could not understand why the ruling overlooked lies, inconsistencies and a total disregard for equality legislation on the part of New College.

When Mr. Lewis received the judgement from the Employment Tribunal in writing, he was shocked to find that the judge had disregarded what he had said about racial stereotyping.

The Judge said: “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.”

At the London Employment Appeal Preliminary Hearing on 14th October 2011, the judge and panel were not impressed that the Reading Employment Tribunal judge and panel appeared to have little understanding of racial stereotyping.

In the EAT judgement, the Judge said: We agree “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 EAT Judge was also concerned that the case appeared to have been tried as an unfair dismissal case with little regard to the racial discrimination side of it.

Mr. Lewis is determined to prove his case. “I have proof that New College management lied under oath and that they have no real commitment to Equal Opportunities whatsoever,” he says.

He also says that it later on became clear to him that through their actions, “New College were determined to get rid of the only black chef in their kitchen.”

“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,” says Mr. Jasper.

By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a

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