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Support assistant loses racial discrimination case after manager calls someone ‘dark horse’

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead Burton

In Ms G Mangwanya v National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux Grace Mangwanya was working as a support assistant at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Leeds on a one-year fixed term contract in its scams department, helping vulnerable people at risk of online scams.

The phrase dark horse was said by a service support manager in relation to a conversation about ex-Premier League footballer Didier Drogba, it was heard.

Writing a complaint in June 2020, Ms Mangwanya said: ‘Today Sophie mentioned that she knows Didier Drogba because he is from Ivory Coast and was a friend of her last boyfriend was from Ivory Coast.

‘[Her colleague] then said, “Sophie I did not know that you were sort of the dark horse person”, meaning she had a black boyfriend.

As part of her email, Ms Mangwanya also complained two months before the dark horse comment that [her colleague] ‘came in wearing a black African wig and glasses as a joke’.

Ms Mangwanya’s contract was not extended in September 2020 due to a lack of work and she was let go.

At the tribunal, Ms Mangwanya insisted Citizens Advice was a ‘racist organisation’ and made dozens of racism allegations.

Dismissing her claims, Employment Judge Jim Shepherd ruled that dark horse is not racist.

Judge Shepherd said: ‘This remark was addressed to one of Ms Mangwanya’s colleagues who raised no objection at the time.

‘Ms Mangwanya misunderstood the reference to a dark horse which refers to someone who has kept their talents hidden, a horseracing metaphor.

‘It was not harassment as it did not have the purpose or effect of violating her dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her.’

The tribunal also heard that her colleague did not wear an African wig but simply a ‘messy hippy style’ wig with ‘Diamante glasses’ as part of an online quiz to be ‘light-hearted and entertaining’.

Judge Shepherd concluded: ‘Her case was very difficult to follow. The evidence she gave was often incoherent.

‘She failed to answer questions put to her in cross-examination on numerous occasions and resorted to taking an exceptional length of time finding documents which did not assist her and she then tended to mutter and state that [Citizens Advice] is a racist organisation.

‘Her approach was to attack Citizens Advice and its witnesses but not to go through the issues or put the allegations in any clear form.

‘This has been an extraordinarily lengthy and wearing case for all those involved.

‘The Tribunal has sympathy for everyone in the case, particularly those employees who have been subject to unfounded serious allegations of discrimination. Ms Mangwanya provided a litany of allegations.

‘It is clear that she views every difficulty, or perceived difficulty, she faced during her employment through the lens of discrimination whether race, disability or religion or belief.’

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