The case of a chef who accused New College of unfair dismissal with discrimination has been reopened, after the decision of an original employment tribunal was overruled earlier this term.
Gregory Lewis’ case will now be remitted to a freshly constituted panel at the Employment Tribunal.
The appeal tribunal found that the original judge had “at least given the appearance of holding a stereotypical view” of black Caribbean males that they felt was “inappropriate”.
The original judge had said that he did “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”.
Lewis was dismissed in 2009 on the grounds of medical capability. In 2007 he had been interviewed for the role of head chef after working as a deputy head chef for eight years at New College. The Campaign for Racial Equality at Oxford University claim that, at the time, there had never been a black head chef at an Oxford University college. His application was unsuccessful.
The judge’s argument referred to comments made by Dr Parrott, a history don who formed part of the interview panel in 2007. Parrott described Lewis in his notes as “Dr Pangloss himself”, a reference to Voltaire’s Candide.
Lewis had later noted in his witness statement that “there was no need to refer to me as any character from any era, much less an idiotic one from a racist era.”
However, while the appeal tribunal described Parrott’s comments as “elliptical”, they concluded that the “gist” of the term was “he appeared to accept matters as they are, rather than striving for change, viewing life as all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”.
Caroline Thomas, New’s Home Bursar, said: “Despite the omissions in the written judgement of the ET Judge, it was absolutely clear to all three members of the ET panel that there was no evidence of any racism at New College in relation to Mr Lewis.”
She emphasized: “Clearly it isn’t a judgment against the College. The Judge at the original tribunal used his own paraphrase of the claimant’s representative’s description of a particular stereotype – the words the Judge used were had not been used by any member of the College at any time – they were his own and came out of the blue.”
However, Lee Jasper disputed this: “This is a disgraceful case of elite academic racism, New College sought to belittle and humiliate a proud black man doing his job.” He continued: “What is clear is that Gregory having suffered racism at the hands of New College became doubly victimised by employment tribunal process.”
The appeal tribunal concluded: “It is extraordinary in this case what a large role this epigrammatic comment by an interviewer has had. It has been an interesting excursion and it does invoke some straining of a connection between an Age of Enlightenment, pre-revolutionary philosopher, fictionalised by a satirist in 1759, and a Black Afro-Caribbean chef in 2007 Oxford.”