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Chef takes on might of Oxford

COURT BATTLE: Gregory Lewis

A BLACK CHEF sacked by Oxford University’s New College, amid claims he was bullied out of his job after complaining about a promotion, has been granted a second chance to press his case for racial discrimination.

Gregory Lewis, 46, had worked for the prestigious New College for over 20 years, spending the past 18 years as deputy chef.

With the exception of a verbal warning for lateness in 2008, the professionally-trained chef had an exemplary record and had even won awards for his work.


When the head chef retired in 2007, Lewis was appointed acting head chef and later applied for the position but was unsuccessful. Instead an external candidate, not even on the original shortlist of candidates, was appointed.

Despite his experience, Lewis was told he did not have the necessary qualifications namely a “more advanced food hygiene certificate”.

“I asked if I could train for this and it was agreed. However, [I was told] it would be a good idea if I took a head chef’s position elsewhere and then come back and try again at New College”, said Lewis.

A further insult was to follow.

In the interview notes, one of New College’s history dons, Dr Parrot, described Lewis as “Mr Pangloss indeed” – a reference to an unflattering character in Voltaire’s 17th century satirical novel Candide.

When Lewis raised the issue claiming he had been racially discriminated against, he alleges he was bullied out of his job in 2009 which the college strongly denies. He was sacked after taking time off work.

He was advised by the director of Oxford’s Racial Equality Council to take his case to an employment tribunal which was heard at Reading in July 2010.

In his witness statement, Lewis said: “Pangloss is consistently optimistic to the point of ridiculousness; remaining cheerful even when black slaves are mutilated. He is a buffoon, and the main object of Voltaire's satire in the novel. The novel also depicts black men as monkeys.

KITCHEN CLAIMS: Oxford University

“I was very insulted to have this reference made about me. None of the white candidates had insults on their notes, even when they failed to impress the panel.”

Judge Coles, who heard the case, dismissed the notion there was a racial element.


In his judgment, he stated: “I still do not believe that there is a stereotypical view of black Caribbean males being “lazy and stupid”. They may have a more “relaxed” approach to life than other ethnic groups, but that is not in any way a derogatory assessment and in any event was not in reality a relevant feature in this case.”

Judge Cole’s comments were blasted by Judge McMullen QC as “inappropriate” at an appeal heard in October.
In his ruling, published on November 17, the judge agreed for the case to be remitted to a freshly-constituted panel and criticised the procedures of the 2010 hearing.

He added: “We consider there is substance… that the witness team from New College was smug and superior, that should have been a matter which was dealt with in the Judgment in accordance with its duty to make inferences.

“Were they smug and superior because they were above a mere chef? Or was it anything to do with the fact that he was black Caribbean?”

Judge McMullen also blasted Dr Parrott for producing “a three-page essay which had some unfortunate epithets about stupidity and malice. Irony was not what was called for.”

Lewis is now awaiting for a court date to be set.

An Oxford University spokesperson said in a statement: “Mr Lewis was employed by New College, not by Oxford University.

“New College won the employment tribunal case brought by Mr Lewis for unfair dismissal in July 2010. Mr Lewis appealed the decision in October 2011 and the appeal Judge found that the original hearing had been procedurally flawed and that it should be reheard at a date yet to be advised. At no point in the proceedings were any accusations of racism found to have any validity.”

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