It’s racist to say someone is playing the race card, tribunal rules

LSgt Dwight Pile-Grey
LSgt Dwight Pile-Grey sued the MoD for race discrimination

It is racist to say someone is playing the race card at work, a tribunal ruled.

Implying that an ethnic minority colleague is raising bigotry without foundation is an act of discrimination itself, a judgment concluded.

This is because it is ‘‘inconceivable’’ a white person would face the same accusation, the tribunal said, describing the comment as ‘‘irrefutably connected’’ with race.

The ruling came in the case of Lance Sergeant Dwight Pile-Grey, a British Army musician who successfully sued the Ministry of Defence for race discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

The black Rastafarian French horn player in the Grenadier Guards took legal action after he was denied entry to his barracks while wearing civilian clothes by a guard who did not believe at first he was a soldier.

When LSgt Pile-Grey complained that the Lance Corporal wouldn’t have treated him that way if he had been white, he was accused of playing the race card by both the guard and his superior officer, who alleged he was turning the incident ‘‘into a racial thing’’.

These comments, the tribunal found, were discriminatory.

“It was the tribunal’s finding that a hypothetical white comparator would not have been treated in the same manner,” the tribunal said.

“It was clear from the wording used; ‘going to turn this into a racial thing’ and ‘playing the race card’ that [LSgt Pile-Grey] being black was at the forefront of [the officer’s] mind.

“It seems inconceivable that he would have used such words to a white person and it therefore seemed likely that his entire approach to the interactions with [LSgt Pile-Grey] were influenced by race.

“The nature of the comment is irrefutably connected with race and as such, race must have been the reason for the treatment.”

LSgt Dwight Pile-Grey playing the French Horn
LSgt Dwight Pile-Grey, a French horn player, has now left the Army to teach music

LSgt Pile-Grey’s victory in the tribunal was first reported last December. However, the full judgment has only now been published.

The hearing in central London was told that he had joined the Army in 2005 and at the time of the incident in July 2021 was based at Wellington Barracks in the capital.

Events he had marched at include Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Trooping the Colour and Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph.

The tribunal was told that while off-duty and after attending a medical appointment he was stopped by a guard on duty – identified in the judgment only as LCpl Stott – from returning to the barracks.

He was asked for identification but didn’t have it on him at the time.

“[LSgt Pile-Grey] alleges that he was subjected to racist comments by the guard. [He] also alleged that LCpl Stott was patronising and condescending in the manner in which he addressed him.

“[He] alleged that he was not called ‘Sir’ which he should have been by LCpl Stott, as any unidentified visitor to the barracks should be.

“[LSgt Pile-Grey] goes on to allege that he identified himself and then LCpl Stott enquired with his colleagues in the barracks to confirm [his] identity.

“[He] alleges that LCpl Stott said ‘this gentleman thinks that he’s left his ID in here, does anyone know him?’ and when doing so emphasised the word ‘gentleman’ as if air quotes were being used – that is that LCpl did not consider [him] to be a gentleman.

“[LSgt Pile-Grey] then alleges that when he identified himself, LCpl Stott said ‘Well I don’t know who you are and I don’t need your attitude’.

Disciplinary finding added to record

[LSgt Pile-Grey] eventually gained access to the barracks. He then changed into his uniform and returned to speak to the guard to challenge his behaviour

“[He] alleges that during that confrontation LCpl Stott accused the claimant of ‘playing the race card’. [LSgt Pile-Grey] then sought to speak to the guard’s superior officer, Staff Sgt Flowers, who was in the guard room.

“[He] alleges that when he tried to speak to SSgt Flowers, he made comments to him to indicate that he was not interested in listening to him, accused [him] of ‘playing the race card’.’’

He also accused SSgt Flowers of telling him: ‘‘If you are going to turn this into a racial thing then I’m not interested.’’

After SSgt Flowers walked away, the tribunal heard LSgt Pile-Grey was forcibly removed from the guardroom and an ‘‘aggressive’’ altercation ensued.

LSgt Pile-Grey, then 53, complained about his treatment to the garrison commander and agreed to a mediation meeting between himself, SSgt Flowers and LCpl Stott.

However, the two soldiers never attended the meeting and instead LSgt Pile-Grey faced a disciplinary investigation for the way he had behaved that eventually resulted in him pleading guilty to insubordination in October that year.

He was docked a day’s pay and had the disciplinary finding added to his record.

LSgt Pile-Grey made a service complaint in December about the incident and the way his complaints had been handled, but this was rejected in November the following year.

He took the MoD to the tribunal in June 2023.

The panel upheld all of his complaints, finding that he had been discriminated against, harassed and victimised by what had happened in July 2021 and the subsequent disciplinary proceedings against him and handling of his complaints.

LSgt Pile-Grey has left the Army and now teaches music.