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Robertson jam`s golly deemed racist

27 December 2013 #Employment

The question of whether the term ‘golliwog’ is racist has been in the news over the last couple of weeks.  There has been the Court of Appeal ruling that the term ‘golliwog’ can be racist, whilst also in the news is the disciplinary action taken against a Sussex councillor for her comments about gollys.

Court of Appeal case

One of the issues before the Court of Appeal in the case of London School of Economics v Lindsay [2013] EWCA Civ 1650 was whether saying “golliwog” could amount to racial harassment. 


Denise Lindsay, who is black and of Afro-Caribbean descent, brought a number of claims against the LSE including one of racial harassment.  She said that a chef at the LSE had used the word “golliwog” in order to get her attention.  The chef however denied using the term at all, and instead said that there he was having a discussion with others about changes to food labelling, when he referred to how the label on Robertson’s jam had changed. 

Whilst the chef denied using the term, he accepted that its use could cause serious offense, at least if used insensitively.   

The matter was initially considered by an Employment Tribunal which concluded that the most likely explanation was that the chef had used the term because of Ms Lindsay’s race.   However it was deemed that her claim had been submitted out of time.  Ms Lindsay then appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and then to the Court of Appeal. 


The Court of Appeal noted that the term “golliwog” if used directly towards Ms Lindsay would be obviously racist and offensive.  They concluded that the Tribunal had been entitled to infer that the most likely explanation was that the chef had used the word because of Ms Lindsay’s race.  His failure to be truthful about the fact that he had used the term at all, coupled with his own view that any use of the term in the presence of a black person would be offensive formed an adequate evidential basis for the Tribunal’s finding that the words had been used by him on the grounds of race.

Nevertheless, the original outcome remained that her claim of racial harassment was out of time. 

Sussex councillor’s comments

When a shop was selling products featuring the golly from Robertson’s jam, a local reporter asked Dawn Barnett, councillor for Hangleton and Knoll, for her views.  Ms Barnett’s comments included that the pictures were “nostalgic, not racist”.  She also added that complaints against the shop were “political correctness gone too far”.    

Following complaints against her comments, the council held a disciplinary hearing.  The councillor has been found guilty of breaching the council’s conduct code by bringing her office and the council into disrepute.  She is now to undergo equality training.


Whatever your views on the Roberton’s old logo, both of these news stories highlight the importance of providing equality and diversity training for all staff.  Employers are liable for any discriminatory acts by their employees in the course of their employment.  However, there is a defence for an employer if it can show that it took “all reasonable steps” to prevent an employee from doing the discriminatory act.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
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