Aspinalls casino in Mayfair allowed multi-millionaire high-roller clients who would bet £300,000 at a time to call black croupiers ‘n****r’, ‘blackie’ and ‘stupid black girl’, tribunal hears
- Crown London Aspinalls worker Semhar Tesfagiorgis, 41,claimed racial abuse
- She alleged that managers would not act in case it offended rich clients
- Claims one said ‘Did you expect me to turn away a million-pound punter?’
- Casino and management all deny the claims
A Mayfair casino has been accused of ignoring high-rolling multi-millionaire clients racially abusing its croupiers because they were afraid of losing their custom.
Crown London Aspinalls worker Semhar Tesfagiorgis, 41, told a London employment tribunal she was called a ‘stupid black girl’ ‘blackie’ and ‘n***er’ by clients.
She also alleged management would ‘segregate’ black employees out of their eyesight if directed by customers from the Far East and said requests for ‘fair-skinned dealers’ were accepted as being ‘pure superstition’.
Ms Tesfagiorgis also said that a manager told her after she complained, ‘did you expect me to turn away a million-pound punter?’.
She said some customers would turn up with a millions of pounds to gamble and put up to £300,000 on a single hand of Baccarat.
The Eritrean-born mother of two is accusing the casino of direct race and sex discrimination, indirect sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
She claims her managers, two of whom are also listed as respondents in the suit, diminished the racist remarks by calling them ‘mistakes’.
The croupier, who worked at the den for 13 years until taking voluntary redundancy last year due to the pandemic, said she was the first black person to be hired in gaming and that black men were effectively banned from being hired in client-facing roles.
Crown London Aspinalls worker Semhar Tesfagiorgis, 41,claimed racial abuse at the casino
She also alleged management would ‘segregate’ black employees out of some customers’ view
Ms Tesfagiorgis also said she was repeatedly overlooked for promotion and that her request for consideration for time off for child care was also rejected in contrast with her white colleagues.
In her witness statement, she said: ‘Since working in high-end Casinos, I have served a wealthy middle-eastern clientele, including members of the royal family who tended to prefer the game of roulette.
‘In more recent years, around the time Crown took over full ownership, the focus shifted to the Far Eastern market.
‘Our wealthy patrons would gamble huge sums of money. In one spin of the roulette table there could easily be over £100,000 on the layout and if you hit a number the pay-out could be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.
‘As for our Far-Eastern customers, they tended to prefer Baccarat and our super-wealthy patrons could play up to £300,000 a hand.
‘They would literally have millions of pounds on deposit for their gaming session.’
Ms Tesfagiorgis outlined several occasions when she claims she and other black female staff were told to not enter gaming rooms or were kept away from members due to their racist preferences, including on her second day of working at the casino.
She said: ‘On 14 Feb 2007, a wealthy patron, their biggest customer at the time called both myself and Ms Fiona Esoko, a black employee of the first respondent, a ‘n****r’.
Crown London Aspinalls and the managers deny all the allegations made at the tribunal
‘He was not barred from the casino despite this amounting to an egregious act of racial harassment and discrimination and being contrary to the club rules.
‘Neither was he suspended as a patron; no action was taken to protect myself or my colleague from this known unabashed racist conduct.
‘Instead management pandered to the irrational and damaging whims of racist patrons and sought to excuse their conduct or blame black staff for it.
‘In so doing they compounded the racist conduct and committed racist acts against myself and colleagues by such action and inaction.’
Ms Tesfagiorgis claims that throughout the time of working at the casino, racist comments were normalised and part of the culture of working there.
She said: ‘Mr John Bruns, Casino Manager, emphatically told me and [another black employee] Selina, ‘right, you two aren’t going up there’, upon arrival to our shift and we were both kept away for several days from a member due to that member’s racist and sexist dealer preference, namely western-looking/white female dealers only.
‘Thereby this entrenched attitude of enabling, accommodating and pandering to racist patrons, itself discriminatory conduct, continued to the detriment of myself and other black employees.’
She added: ‘On 4 December 2019, a patron, Mr Pravech Rattanapian, insisted on having a ‘fair-skinned dealer’.
‘This was communicated via the first respondent’s marketing team who then asked the front of house management to deal with the request.
‘Accordingly the request was passed on as a legitimate request and not rejected as being in contravention of the club rules or the first respondent’s policies by any member of marketing or management prior to myself being on shift that day.
‘The patron refused a black female dealer, Ms [Selina] Miebaka. The only other available female was me, so pandering to a racist request the first respondent arranged for white male dealers to attend to the patron instead.
‘No one warned the patron of the inappropriateness of his insulting, racist request or warned him that his membership could be suspended or terminated for this prejudiced behaviour.
‘Instead I was kept at arm’s length and segregated from the vicinity of where this patron was gaming because I was a black woman.’
When she complained, she had a meeting with managing director Michael Branson and human resources supervisor Laura Attrill, also listed as respondents at the tribunal.
She said Mr Branson said the patron’s request for ‘fair-skinned dealers’ may have been ‘pure superstition’.
She said: ‘He said, ‘did I expect him to turn away a million-pound punter?’
‘He had to ‘manage customer expectations’. He had had many similar discussions – patrons cannot be spoken to as they would not accept it.
‘I was distraught after this meeting and found it extraordinary hostile as it was clear that the respondents would never take steps to protect me from patrons’ racist, bigoted discriminatory or harassing conduct or treat me fairly when I raised concerns about the same.
‘Instead they would add further insult to injury only compounding egregious discrimination further by their own discriminatory acts and omissions and continue to segregate me and other fellow black women.’
According to the statement, human resources supervisor, Ms Attrill, said the casino could not ‘guarantee to protect my dignity’.
Ms Tesfagiorgis said: ‘Given her seniority and position on Human Resources, her disregard to these issues utterly shocked me and caused me heightened stress and anxiety.
‘It yet again felt that I had to put up with and work in a toxic, racist and sexist workplace.’
In her conclusion, she said: ‘It is devastating that we, the black female workforce, were effectively segregated by our managers and kept away because of the unlawful demands of their customers in contravention of the Equality Act 2010.
‘We were stereotyped as not being worthy of promotion and kept away and denied opportunities for promotion.
‘Instead of following their policies and not tolerating sexist and racist abuse from their members, the respondents have allowed a toxic culture of discrimination, harassment and segregation to infect the business and by failing to take any cogent action, enabled it to develop and flourish.
‘This has been by continuously accommodating the racist demands of their patrons and turning a blind eye to their harassing behaviour and discriminating by gaslighting, closing down and ignoring staff complaints and grievances spanning over a number of years.
‘These are allegations of the utmost severity made by black female employees.
‘I was an exceptional, committed employee and all I ever wanted in return was to be treated equally.
‘Learning that my employer and many of my colleagues after 13 years of service could not see my humanity just because I am a black woman was an incredibly hurtful and a very difficult fact to accept.
‘It was never the comments or the actions of patrons alone that caused me the most hurt and upset, but the inaction or complicity of those whose duty it was to protect me and make me feel safe.’
Aspinall’s was founded in the 1960s by John Aspinall, a breeder of wild animals who funded his exotic zoos, to a large extent, from house winnings.
Club rules state the proprietor has a ‘strict policy against discrimination and will not tolerate any conduct, which may potentially constitute harassment’.
Crown London Aspinalls, Mr Branson and Ms Atrill deny the allegations.
The tribunal continues.
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