Ruby Schembri is a white 35-year old Maltese national who moved to Britain in 2004. She recently earned £750 by taking her employer, HSBC Bank, to court claiming race discrimination because she had overheard a private conversation between colleagues.
Watford Employment Tribunal found both Debbie Jones, a local bank manager, and HSBC guilty of racial discrimination after Ms Schembri claimed that she had overheard Ms Jones say “I hate foreigners” and “I am against immigration” in a conversation with Rosemary Johnstone, a colleague, in April 2005.
“Debbie asked Rosemary if she supported the Tory or Labour Party and bluntly stated ‘I am against immigration.’ My ears pricked up and then Debbie added ‘I hate foreigners.’ I was shocked and offended. Debbie made her statement with real conviction. I found Debbie's racist comment to be offensive and very hurtful. I left the room and was on the counter. I began to cry.”
Debbie Jones told the tribunal all she had said was that she would vote for Robert Kilroy-Silk of the United Kingdom Independence Party in the May 5, 2005 general election because he would get rid of immigrants. She denied using the word foreigners. Schembri told the tribunal that she had been upset by Jones’ comments and reported them to her employers. Despite HSBC describing Jones’ remarks as “unacceptable”, she was cleared internally of misconduct and was not disciplined by the bank. She remained at her post at HSBC’s branch in Barnet, North London, apart from a few days’ compulsory “race awareness training.”
However, the employment tribunal in Watford stated that it was reasonable to infer that Jones’ remark showed a “substantial dislike of foreigners.” It unanimously ruled that Jones and HSBC were both guilty of racial discrimination and ordered them to pay £750 compensation to Schembri. The latter, who now works for NatWest, another bank, reacted to the verdict with relief: “I feel vindicated.”
The case is one of the first to find that that a comment not made directly to another person can be construed as racism. Moreover, the court ruled that using the term “foreigners” is racist. The verdict also indicates that the mere fact of “disliking” foreigners constitutes a crime, even if one’s dislike is purely private and is not shown directly in one’s behaviour towards a foreigner.
During the row over the Muhammad cartoons some stated that censorship is a form of politeness because no-one is allowed to insult another person or his (religious) feelings. In contemporary Britain the mere harbouring of negative feelings is considered by some to be an insult to them. Consequently, as the British case shows, this makes it financially rewarding to become informers, reporting overheard conversations to the authorities. British citizens who wish to express their reservations about immigration better be careful and never talk in the presence of “foreigners” – including white Maltese citizens.
People who in the past would have pursued careers as Inquisition officials, as Gestapo or Stasi informers, or as interrogators in Lubyanka Prison, have new prospects. Thanks to the multicultural society they can snitch on colleagues and neighbours.