Posted on December 12, 2013

Black Chef Suing Employers After Boss Used Word ‘Golliwog’ During Conversation About Robertson’s Jam

Alice Philipson, Telegraph (London), December 2, 2013

A black chef is claiming racial harassment after her manager used the word ‘golliwog’ during a conversation about the old label on Robertson’s jam.

Denise Lindsay, 45, was working for the London School of Economics when chef manager, Mark McAleese, said the controversial word in front of her.

Now her lawyers are battling to convince three top judges that the word is inherently offensive to black people and almost always discriminatory–no matter in what context it is used.

Her barrister, Daniel Matovu, told the court: “White people don’t get called ‘golliwogs’. The word is an overtly racial comment.

“‘Golliwog’ cannot be interpreted in any other way.

“What the authorities make clear is that, when something is inherently discriminatory and clearly has racial overtones, there is no further debate.”

Originally called the Golliwog, the Golly first appeared on jars of Robertson’s jam in 1910. However, the character was removed in 2001.

Ms Lindsay was working as an assistant chef manager at the LSE’s Bloomsbury student halls in February 2009 when Mr McAleese used the word while discussing “the change to the label of Robertson’s jam,” the court heard.

Ms Lindsay was upset and an employment tribunal later found that what Mr McAleese said amounted to “an isolated act of harassment”–despite the fact that he had apologised and had not uttered the word for the “purpose of violating her dignity”.

The tribunal ruled: “We have concluded that, for a white manager to use the words ‘golliwog’ and ‘golliwog jam’ in the course of a conversation with a black Afro-Caribbean colleague is unwanted conduct”.

However, Ms Lindsay’s harassment claim was dismissed after the tribunal said it had been brought too late.

Whether that decision was justified is one of the central issues now being considered by the Appeal Court judges.

Mr Matovu argued the tribunal was plainly wrong to dismiss the “golliwog complaint” purely on grounds of delay.

However, the LSE’s barrister, Shaen Catherwood, insisted that Mr McAleese’s use of the contentious word–spoken quietly and quickly–did not come anywhere close to racial harassment.

“I say it is unsatisfactory that somebody should be labelled with a finding of harassment on racial grounds when the actual context in which the word was used was innocent and inoffensive,” he told the court.

Lord Justice Christopher Clarke reserved their decision on the case until a later date.