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Mimicking Chinese accent and making Kung Foo noises was racial harassment

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In Sheun v Northern General Hospital (Sheffield Teaching  Hospitals NHS Trust), S is of Chinese ethnic origin. He grew up in a small town where there were few families of Chinese ethnic origin and had suffered regular discriminatory treatment at the hands of residents and school mates. An ET upheld S’s claim of harassment related to race in respect of two incidents: (1) in the earshot of S, a colleague, B, used a stereotypical vocalisation, typical of early Chinese martial arts films and used most often by the actor Bruce Lee; (2) in a discussion about the Chinese beer, Tsing Tao, B elongated the final vowel sound in the word Tao to mimic what he understood to be the Chinese way of pronouncing that word. The ET found that in mimicking the Chinese accent and making the Kung Foo noise, B did not target S with the intent of causing him distress – it was a case of misguided humour. Nevertheless, B’s conduct had the effect of violating S’s dignity. This was because S had angrily challenged his colleague, he had made a formal complaint and in his earlier life he had suffered unwanted conduct of a very similar nature to that which he complained of in this case.

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