Derby racial harassment claim based on man’s use of the word ‘coloured’ dismissed by tribunal judge

Ryan Justin was outraged by a note by Markham Pell (pictured) saying 'coloured guys' at Pure Gym's fitness centre in Derby

Ryan Justin was outraged by a note by Markham Pell (pictured) saying 'coloured guys' at Pure Gym's fitness centre in Derby

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 because they are ‘anxious’ to be polite, a tribunal has found, after a black cleaner accused a ‘naive’ middle-aged white gym colleague of racism and quit.

Those of a ‘certain age’ who have not had ‘multi-cultural acquaintances’ often use the ‘outdated’ language when trying not to offend, an employment judge said.

Black cleaner Ryan Justin was outraged by a note his white colleague Markham Pell wrote about three South Asian men who he believed were misbehaving at the Pure Gym in Derby.

The tribunal, which was held remotely, heard the message left at the office said: ‘Steve was training last night (this morning) and informed me that 3 coloured guys were messing around (i.e. play fighting and not really training) (in basement).’

The ‘Steve’ referred was Steve Hayes, an off duty colleague using the gym facilities, who had relayed a concern to Mr Pell and suggested it was put in the comments book.

Mr Justin had not seen the incident but wrote it down in his own words based on Mr Hayes’ description, the tribunal heard.

Mr Justin stormed out of the gym after seeing the note and later sent an email to his boss on February 8, 2020, that he resigned because he would ‘rather walk out than get into any conflict’.

But ruling against him, Judge Robert Clark said people only think the word ‘coloured’ is acceptable because of ‘less polite alternatives’ that existed in the past and it does not mean they are not ‘inclusive’. 

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

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

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

Why is the term ‘coloured’ considered so offensive? 

FA boss Greg Clarke resigned after using the term 'coloured' during a session with MPs on racism

FA boss Greg Clarke resigned after using the term 'coloured' during a session with MPs on racism

FA boss Greg Clarke resigned after using the term ‘coloured’ during a session with MPs on racism

A judge has ruled that middle-aged white people may be prone to using the word ‘coloured’ when describing black or Asian people – but don’t mean to offend.

But the word coloured is considered offensive because it harks back to times of segregation, especially in the Unites States and South Africa.

Campaigners have also said that the term is based on the assumtion white is ‘normal or default’ and any other ethinicity is not. 

In the past it was used on public transport, toilets, restaurants, drinking fountains and many other places and referred to as ‘coloured-only’.

Explaining why it is upsetting charity Show Racism the Red Card say: ‘[It] was used to describe anybody who was not white, which may imply that to be white is ‘normal’ or default.

‘If we consider it, every human has a skin colour, so technically we are all coloured.’

Greg Clarke resigned as chairman of the Football Association having used the term ‘coloured footballers’ as he spoke to MPs about diversity and racism.

Despite most people now using the term ‘black’, some older people still use it despite it being outdated.

The judge in the tribunal said 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’.

In 2015 Benedict Cumberbatch  apologised after using the term ‘coloured’ to describe black actors.

He used the word while on a US talk show discussing how he believes there are more opportunities for black actors in Hollywood than in Britain.

After he was criticised, he said in a statement: ‘I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive.’ 

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Mr Justin has lost his harassment claim in March after Mr Pell told the tribunal he had 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.

The judge sided with Mr Pell, agreeing he was concerned not to offend, and 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.

Judge Robert 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.’

Mr Pell had left the message after an incident a couple of days earlier in which three men had been misbehaving in the gym.

But Mr Justin saw it and ‘took exception’ to the use of the word and added his own comment saying: ‘Not coloured’.

Three nights later, he confronted Mr Pell to explain why black people would be offended by the word.

He said the men had actually been of South Asian ethnicity and he had been unsure how to describe them in his note. 

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.’

Mr Pell had left the message after an incident a couple of days earlier in which three men had been misbehaving in the gym

Mr Pell had left the message after an incident a couple of days earlier in which three men had been misbehaving in the gym

Mr Pell had left the message after an incident a couple of days earlier in which three men had been misbehaving in the gym

Mr Pell (pictured) immediately apologised and said he did not mean it to be 'nasty or upsetting' and he genuinely had not meant to be racist

Mr Pell (pictured) immediately apologised and said he did not mean it to be 'nasty or upsetting' and he genuinely had not meant to be racist

Mr Pell (pictured) immediately apologised and said he did not mean it to be 'nasty or upsetting' and he genuinely had not meant to be racist

Mr Pell (pictured) immediately apologised and said he did not mean it to be 'nasty or upsetting' and he genuinely had not meant to be racist

Mr Pell (left and right) immediately apologised and said he did not mean it to be ‘nasty or upsetting’ and he genuinely had not meant to be racist

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.’  

The tribunal ruled Mr Justin’s claims of harassment both failed and were therefore dismissed.

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