Council worker fired over racist golliwog joke about Meghan Markles pregnancy

A council worker was sacked after she showed an image of golliwogs to colleagues saying it was the future of the Royal Family following Meghan Markle's pregnancy announcement.

Jane Copley claimed she was 'just trying to fit in with usual office banter' when she shared the photo, Essex Live reports.

A tribunal heard that the 55-year-old also likened Serena Williams to a monkey with a 'joke' about the black tennis superstar's style of home decoration being 'tyres and fruit'.

The housing support officer was sacked for gross misconduct after colleagues complained. She then sued the local authority for unfair dismissal, age discrimination and disability discrimination.

But a tribunal held in London has thrown out her claims. The hearing was told Mrs Copley joined Rochford District Council in Essex in January 1991 as a personal assistant but her role changed to Housing Options Support Officer in March 2018.

In June the following year six of her colleagues raised a collective grievance after becoming 'concerned and angry' about her behaviour.

The complaint included claims she had showed racist material to them at work, allegations of bullying and accusations she was undermining, manipulating and demeaning fellow workers.

The 'drip drip' effect of her behaviour was spoiling people's enjoyment at work or their well-being, they said, with some saying they were losing sleep due to the atmosphere created by Mrs Copley.

Angela Law, Assistant Director for Legal and Democratic at the council, investigated the grievance, the panel was told. The tribunal heard that one of the complaints centred around an incident after the Duchess of Sussex had announced her pregnancy in October 2018.

"(Mrs Copley) had shown colleagues a picture of a group of golliwogs stating that it was the Royal Family several decades hence," the tribunal heard.

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"(She) also told a ‘joke’ about Serena Williams’ minimal style of decoration being tyres and fruit, the aim was to liken her to a monkey.

"Some staff were particularly offended by the material."

Ms Law asked the staff members who raised the grievance about normal banter in the office and whether it included a racist element. All denied they would share such material.

They claimed their ‘banter’ at work centred around love life, family and TV.

Ms Law told Mrs Copley about the grievance on 28 June 2019 and Mrs Copley started a lengthy sickness absence on 1 July 2019 with anxiety and depression.

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She was never sufficiently well to return to work. The tribunal heard 'the grievance had upset her and triggered a significant bout of anxiety and depression, she was 'horrified' to receive the grievance and 'she thought it portrayed her as some kind of monster'.

Mrs Copley claimed the grievance and investigation were a witch hunt designed to get her out and believed the six staff had colluded together to make a false grievance. In her answers to the investigation, Mrs Copley admitted she had shared the racist picture and made the so-called ‘joke’ about Serena Williams.

She stated this was part of 'usual office banter and she was 'doing it against her better judgment to try to join in'. She did not give any examples of racist material being shared previously by any colleagues. Mrs Copley was sacked in January 2020 and proceeded to file a claim of unfair dismissal, age discrimination and disability discrimination against the council.

The tribunal also heard she accused the council of failing to make reasonable adjustments for her anxiety and depression, but Employment Judge Samantha Moor dismissed all of her claims.

She said: "It was plainly offensive conduct: sharing material that was unarguably racist. The employer could reasonably conclude that it was not ‘mild’ as [Mrs Copley] had alleged because by sharing that kind of material a racist attitude was revealed.

"It was reasonable too, for the council to take into account that it served the public and expected particularly high standards of behaviour. For this reason, it had a zero-tolerance approach to racism."

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