Black HS2 manager sues for discrimination saying boss was being racist

Black HS2 manager sues for discrimination saying her boss was being racist when she used the phrase ‘whiter than white’

  • Sharon Goodison said it was offensive as it implies ‘white is good, black is bad’
  • The compliance manager resigned without notice in 2021 following her claim

A black manager at HS2 sued for discrimination after claiming her boss was being racist when using the phrase ‘whiter than white’.

Sharon Goodison complained that her boss’s use of the common expression was offensive because it implied ‘white is good, black is bad’.

She told an employment tribunal the phrase – dating back to Shakespearean times – has had ‘racial connotations throughout my life’.

Mrs Goodison even warned manager Laura Day that a police officer had been disciplined for saying it, leading to her apologising for any offence caused.

The tribunal has now dismissed the discrimination claim, ruling that Ms Day’s use of the expression was not related to race but was an ‘apposite’ comment about HS2’s behaviour.

Sharon Goodison (pictured) is suing for discrimination saying her boss was being racist when she used the phrase ‘whiter than white’

Pictured is construction work at the HS2 site in West Hyde near Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire

‘Whiter than white’: The origins of the phrase

There are two theories as to where the phrase ‘whiter than white’ came from.

Theory one: It is a modified phrase coined by William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s 1593 poem Venus and Adonis tells the story of Venus, a goddess of love, and her seduction of Adonis. 

The poem reads: ‘Who sees this true love in her naked bed / Teaching the sheets a whiter hue than white / But, when his glutton eye so full hath fed / His other agents aim like delight?’

In this context, the phrase seems to refer to someone being pure and honest but note that the phrase has been modified slightly with time.

Theory two: It is what it says on the tin – the colour is whiter than the colour white.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the phrase became a popular term following the 1920s advertising slogan for Persil washing powder.

In this context, the phrase literally means that clothes or linen washed using the powder come out pristine and ‘whiter than white’. 

However, the company was found to have forced her out of her job by taking too long to investigate her complaints.

‘Whiter than white’ is believed to originate from Shakespeare’s poem Venus and Adonis and over time has become defined as being pure or honest.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that it became a popular term following the 1920s advertising slogan for Persil washing powder.

The tribunal in central London was told that compliance manager Mrs Goodison worked for the high speed rail company from April 2017 until August 2021.

However, she was unhappy in her role, comparing it to being with ‘an abusive boyfriend’ who had ‘bullied, disrespected, racially discriminated, disrespected, and disempowered me’.

The tribunal heard that in July 2021, Ms Day used the phrase ‘HS2 aren’t whiter than white here’ in relation to how the company was not abiding by the terms of a contract.

In a one to one meeting with Ms Day, Mrs Goodison said that, while she understood the point Ms Day was making, the ‘not whiter than white’ phrase had racial connotations and had impacted her.

Mrs Goodison told the tribunal: ‘White is good, black is bad.

‘[The phrase] has had racial connotations for me throughout my life. I said she had to be very careful. A police officer was brought up on misconduct charges.’

The tribunal heard Mrs Goodison asked if there was a possibility Ms Day was unconsciously biased, and Ms Day said: ‘I don’t know. I was talking about HS2 not complying with a contract. It had nothing to do with race.’

In another incident, Ms Day told Mrs Goodison she had used a ‘hostile’ tone with her during a meeting.

At the tribunal Mrs Goodison described this as a ‘microaggression’ as she felt Ms Day was calling her an ‘aggressive black woman’.

The hearing was told the compliance manager submitted grievances about her alleged mistreatment at work, but the investigation dragged on for nine months.

She said this led to ‘high levels of anxiety, weight loss and trouble sleeping’.

Mrs Goodison resigned without notice in August 2021.

READ MORE: Senior Scotland Yard officer faces the sack for using ‘racist’ term ‘whiter than white’ in briefing to colleagues about being faultless in their inquiries 

In her letter of resignation, she said: ‘You should be aware that I am resigning in response to a repudiatory breach of contract by HS2 detailed in the informal and formal grievances I have raised. I therefore consider myself constructively dismissed.’

Mrs Goodison took HS2 to the tribunal claiming race discrimination, harassment and victimisation as well as constructive unfair dismissal.

The panel rejected the race claim, finding that she was ‘overly critical’ of Ms Day.

Of the ‘whiter than white’ complaint, Employment Judge Jillian Brown said: ‘Ms Day used the phrase ‘white than white’ when describing the [company’s] performance of its contract.

‘The phrase did not relate to [Mrs Goodison], nor to anyone’s race, but the [company’s] failure to fulfil its contractual obligations.

‘While [Mrs Goodison] contended that the phrase reflected ‘white is good, and black is bad’, the Tribunal considered that ‘black’ was not mentioned, nor implied, by Ms Day.

‘The Tribunal decided that Ms Day’s phrase was apposite to describe the [company’s] contractual performance, in that she was saying the [company] was not, itself, without blemish or fault.’

The tribunal also dismissed her complaint that Ms Day’s description of her as ‘hostile’ was discrimination.

However, it ruled HS2 had taken too long to complete the grievance process and awarded her £7,647 in compensation for constructive unfair dismissal.

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