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Case Law Update: Dwight Pile-Grey vs Ministry of Defence

In the case of Dwight Pile-Grey vs Ministry of Defence, Mr Pile-Grey has successfully claimed direct race discrimination, harassment and victimisation against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after his 16-year career in the Army. Following a dispute with white soldiers who doubted his identity as a soldier, culminating in accusations of playing the “race card”, he reported the incident and was subsequently disciplined himself after which he felt he had no choice but to resign.

Circumstances:

Mr Pile-Grey joined the Army in 2005 at the age of 37 as a musician in the Royal Corps for Army Music and later became a member of the Band of the Grenadier Guards. He identifies as Black and Rastafarian and was allowed to wear his hair in locks, which he would fit into his bearskin (the guardsman headgear).

He faced discriminatory remarks about his appearance, racial slurs and offensive questions throughout his Army career. This included questions about whether he smoked drugs, the size of his genitals and the use of the ‘N’ word in his presence. He put much of this down to ignorance and in spite of this conduct, he otherwise enjoyed his career and rose to the rank of lance sergeant.

In July 2021, a confrontation occurred at Wellington Barracks. With his hair on display and in civilian clothing, Pile-Grey went into the barracks for a medical appointment, but left to make a phone call, leaving his ID inside. Upon his return, a white lance corporal who was junior in rank to him, doubted his soldier status due to his appearance, saying to colleagues ‘this gentleman thinks he’s left his ID inside’. He was allowed back in after someone recognised him and returned in his uniform to prove to the lance corporal that he was a soldier and to explain the situation could have been handled better. The corporal accused him of playing the “race card.” A second more senior white sergeant got involved and said that if Pile-Grey was going to make the incident about race, then he was not interested and pointed out that because his office was multicultural “We can’t be racist.” Flabbergasted at the comment and lack of understanding, Mr Pile-Grey admitted losing his temper at this point.

Pile-Grey went to see an officer about the incident and was asked if he wanted to make a complaint, however he proposed mediation in order to explain to the individuals why their comments and behaviour was wrong. Instead however, he faced disciplinary charges for insubordination.

He made a service complaint about this, which was rejected. He resigned from the Army, feeling disregarded and victimised. He took the case to an employment tribunal. The lance corporal’s disbelief, the accusation of playing the “race card,” and subsequent disciplinary actions formed the basis of his case.

Outcome

The employment tribunal found in favour of Pile-Grey, citing evidence of racial discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. The MoD’s failure to address concerns about racial bias, coupled with the inadequate response during litigation, contributed to the successful outcome.

Speaking about the incident to the BBC News, Pile-Grey said he believes his case shows that it was worse to accuse someone of racism than it was to actually be racist.

Learning points for employers

Employers must proactively address and prevent unlawful discrimination, harassment, and victimisation in the workplace. This case highlights the importance of acknowledging and rectifying racial bias promptly.

It is essential that everyone in the workplace is aware of what racism is and the many forms it can take, whether subtle, explicit, covert, deliberate or occurring out of ignorance or malice in order that individuals may be better educated to modify their own behaviour and to equip others to call it out without fear of reprisal.

Implementing comprehensive training programs, fostering an inclusive culture, and responding effectively to complaints can help prevent the loss of valuable employees and legal repercussions.

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