Calling someone a ‘dark horse’ is not racist, employment judge rules after black worker tried to sue Citizens Advice Bureau because her manager used the phrase
- Grace Mangwanya was working as a support assistant at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Leeds, West Yorkshire, and accused it of being a ‘racist organisation’
- The Leeds Employment Tribunal found the phrase should not be considered racially offensive as it refers to someone achieving success unexpectedly
Calling someone a ‘dark horse’ is not racist, an employment judge has ruled after a black worker tried to sue her employer when her boss used the phrase.
An employment judge at The Leeds Employment Tribunal found that the popular phrase refers to someone or something having hidden talents and achieving success unexpectedly.
As a result, it should not be considered racially offensive, the tribunal said.
The new ruling came after black worker Grace Mangwanya tried to sue the Citizens Advice Bureau for race discrimination and race harassment.
Ms Mangwanya, a support assistant at the organisation who was based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, complained at work that her manager used the phrase ‘dark horse’ in front of her, but she had ‘misunderstood’ what the expression meant when she took offence to it.
Ms Mangwanya brought a ‘litany of allegations’ against Citizens Advice to the tribunal after she lost her job. However, her claims – including the ‘dark horse’ allegation – were thrown out.
The origins for the saying ‘dark horse’ can be traced back to the 19th century, with its first-known use in 1831 novel The Young Duke, which penned by author and ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Calling someone a ‘dark horse’ is not racist, an employment judge has ruled after a black worker tried to sue her employer when her boss used the phrase. Grace Mangwanya tried to sue the Citizens Advice Bureau (file photo) for race discrimination and race harassment, complaining at work that her manager used the phrase ‘dark horse’ in front of her
The expression was born when the novel’s protagonist witnessed a horse race which had a surprise winner, a dark horse ‘which had never been thought of’.
Now, the phrase is used commonly and is particularly popular in sport and entertainment.
The Leeds Employment Tribunal heard Ms Mangwanya was employed by Citizens Advice in September 2019 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 service support manager Jo Orsler 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 [her colleague] mentioned that she knows Didier Drogba because he is from Ivory Coast and was a friend of her last boyfriend was from Ivory Coast.
‘Jo then said, “Sophie I did not know that you were sort of the dark horse person”, meaning she had a black boyfriend.
‘Sophie avoided answering this… I am now very sure that she is not aware that it offends others. Can we genuinely talk [as] humans, as a black person, some of the things she says are painful in our culture.’
As part of her email, Ms Mangwanya also complained two months before the dark horse comment Ms Orsler ‘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 Ms Orsler did not wear an African wig but simply a ‘messy hippy style’ wig with ‘Diamante glasses’ as part of an online quiz to be ‘lighthearted and entertaining’.
All of Ms Mangwanya’s other claims of race discrimination, race harassment, disability discrimination, victimisation, and religious discrimination all failed.
She had made claims such as claiming it was racist to ask her if she was telling ‘porky pies’, that she was subjected to a ‘witch hunt’, complained about her workload, and insisted her role was created so ‘black and ethnic minority employees could be employed on a lower salary’.
An employment judge at The Leeds Employment Tribunal (pictured within the City Exchange in Leeds, file photo) found that the popular phrase refers to someone or something having hidden talents and achieving success unexpectedly
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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