Ryan Justin was outraged by a note by Markham Pell (pictured) saying ‘coloured guys’ at Pure Gym’s fitness centre in Derby
Older white people sometimes use the word ‘coloured’ to describe black people in the mistaken belief they are being polite, a tribunal has found.
Those of a ‘certain age’ who have not had ‘multi-cultural acquaintances’ often use the ‘outdated’ language when trying not to offend, an employment judge said.
He said people only think the word is acceptable because of ‘less polite alternatives’ that existed in the past.
The comments were made after a black cleaner launched a harassment claim because one of his white colleagues used the word ‘coloured’.
Ryan Justin was working night shifts for cleaning company Atlas Limited who provided services to Pure Gym’s fitness centre in Derby.
The tribunal, held remotely, heard Mr Justin was enraged after seeing a comment left by another cleaner stating ‘three coloured guys were messing around (i.e. play fighting and not really training)’.
The note had been written by Markham Pell after an incident a couple of days earlier in which three men had been misbehaving in the gym.
The tribunal heard Mr Justin ‘took exception’ to the use of the word and added his own comment to the note and wrote ‘Not coloured’.
Three nights later, he decided to confront Mr Pell ‘in the spirit of education’ to explain why black people would be offended by the word.
When he did Mr Pell immediately apologised and said he did not mean it to be ‘nasty or upsetting’ and he genuinely had not meant to be racist.
He claimed he had been worried about using the word ‘black’ to describe the men as he thought it was offensive and so decided to use the word ‘coloured’ instead.
He said the men had actually been of South Asian ethnicity and he had been unsure how to describe them in his note.
Mr Justin stormed out of the gym and later sent an email telling his boss he resigned because he would ‘rather walk out than get into any conflict’.
The tribunal, held remotely, heard Mr Justin was enraged after seeing a comment left by another cleaner stating ‘three coloured guys were messing around (i.e. play fighting and not really training)’. Pictured: General view of the gym
Employment Judge Robert Clark said the ‘older’ Mr Pell was ‘a particularly naive and timid’ individual who described himself as ‘being raised in an old fashioned household’.
He said: ‘[We found] Ironically, that he had chosen this word in the misplaced belief it was more appropriate, albeit he subsequently realised and accepts it could cause offence…
‘We accept he will go some way to avoid confrontation if he can.
‘His own life experiences are such that he is aware of the need to be culturally sensitive and is conscious of not inadvertently offending others, not least because that could itself be the source of the conflict he otherwise tries to avoid.’
He added: ‘Wrongly, [Mr Pell] now understands, he had been anxious about describing anyone as ‘black’ as he perceived that could be offensive generally.
‘His restricted vocabulary was compounded further when trying to describe individuals from an Asian background as black.’
In his witness statement to the tribunal, Mr Justin said: ‘Black people have had to put up with offensive name tags or described with offensive racist slurs for many years, however times have changed and this should not be accepted or considered OK in this current time.
‘The guilty parties should be made to learn what effect this has had on individuals and communities.’
Giving his conclusion, Judge Clark said: ‘We agree entirely with that sentiment. Nothing we have concluded should suggest otherwise.
‘The fact that this outdated language was once used descriptively by people who genuinely felt it to be a polite term, is only so because of the less polite alternatives that existed in that past era.
‘We accept white people of a certain age who perhaps have not had much opportunity to benefit from multi-cultural acquaintances in their day to day lives may draw on this outdated language in the mistaken belief it is polite and genuinely descriptive.
‘The same may be said of younger people who have grown up in such households. That seems to apply to Mr Pell who, we accept, appears otherwise to try to conduct himself in life in an inclusive manner.’
The tribunal ruled Mr Justin’s approach to Mr Pell was ‘confrontational’ and Mr Pell had genuinely been trying to apologise for doing what he thought was the right thing to do.
It ruled Mr Justin’s claims of harassment both failed and were therefore dismissed.
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