Dutton Gregory Banner Image
News and Events

The Big Sushi Slander

View profile for Darren Tibble
  • Posted
  • Author
The Big Sushi Slander



“You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.”   Stan Laurel

Hello, and welcome to my first official publication with Dutton Gregory Solicitors!

For over 20 years I’ve documented the constant changes in employment law and now that I’ve got my feet firmly under the desk in my new role at Dutton Gregory, I thought that I would dust off the keyboard and return to sharing (what the current Mrs Tibble often calls) my “ramblings” about all the latest goings on

For those of you who don’t already know me, my ramblings are very much intended to be informative, easily read and (ideally) amusing.

Right, that’s the welcome over… so here’s my first bit of law.


The Employment Tribunal case of Ms Sato-Rossberg v SOAS University of London caught my eye this week for three reasons:

  1. the number of allegations of race discrimination and associated whistleblowing-related detrimental treatment that formed part of the case - it ran to 10 PAGES!  (you can read it here)
  2. the judgement really brought home how, in some cases, employment relationships can appear to be doomed from the start.
  3. some of the incidents that the Claimant alleged amounted to race discrimination. resulting in a no-doubt costly, seven-day final hearing where she (spoiler alert) ultimately lost on all counts.

In a nutshell, the Claimant, Ms Sato-Rossberg was the Respondent’s Head of Department for its School of Languages, Culture and Linguistics. Her line manager was Ms Ozanne.

It was alleged that following their first meeting, the Claimant told a colleague that she thought Ms Ozanne would be biased because the Claimant 'was not British and was a woman and BAME' and that she thought that Ms Ozanne “already had this bias”.

One of the headline-grabbing allegations of race discrimination involved a conversation between the Claimant and Ms Ozanne where Ms Ozanne told her about a Japanese sushi restaurant near her home which her family enjoyed.

The Judgement said that the ‘Claimant took exception to this,' and that ‘She told the Tribunal, “She would not have said to a German person, “I like sausage”. I have never tried to initiate a conversation. She anticipated that I like to talk about Japan. That is biased in the first place.” In her witness statement she said, “If Prof Claire Ozanne wished to make conversation, we had many commonalities through our work and professional academic endeavour, but Prof Claire Ozanne chose to speak only about topics directly relevant to my race: the liking of Japanese food and that her family like it and eat sushi.”.

There then followed several months of complaints of bullying and harassment and disputes which culminated in them being considered by an external investigator. The investigation eventually found that there was no evidence to support the allegation that Ms Ozanne was bullying or harassing the Claimant.

The employment tribunal helpfully provided some overarching conclusions about the case, including the fact the “Claimant had decided, from the outset, that Ms Ozanne would be biased because the Claimant was not British and was a woman and BAME. In other words, the Claimant had decided, at the beginning of Ms Ozanne’s management of the Claimant, that Ms Ozanne would be racist in her dealings with the Claimant.

In respect of the headline-grabbing ‘sushi’ comments, the tribunal said that “Ms Ozanne spoke to the Claimant warmly about her local Japanese restaurant and her family’s love of sushi. She did so, knowing that the Claimant was Japanese and believing that the Claimant would receive this positively. She was making small talk and trying to establish a point of shared interest. Ms Ozanne said nothing detrimental about Japan. This was one conversation of many, about many different subjects, which Ms Ozanne had with the Claimant over the course of 18 months. The Tribunal concluded that, even if Ms Ozanne’s comments in this regard were partly because of the Claimant’s race, or related to the Claimant’s race, they were not a detriment, nor harassment.

The Tribunal decided that “Ms Ozanne mentioning a sushi restaurant and her family’s love of sushi was not a detriment because a reasonable person would not consider themselves at a disadvantage when a manager, trying to be friendly and find common ground, was enthusiastic about food from the person’s country of origin. A reasonable person would not take offence at such complimentary and friendly words”.

The unanimous judgement of the tribunal was that the Respondent did not subject the Claimant to race discrimination, race harassment, victimisation, or protected disclosure detriment and the Claimant’s claim was dismissed.


I love searching online for interesting employment stories and this week I spotted a report from BBC News about the Chief Executive of Severn Trent Water who had been awarded the grand sum of £3.2 million in pay, bonuses and shares last year. That said, it was also reported that Severn Trent was responsible for more than 60,000 sewage spills last year – a rise of a third!!  One wonders what the remuneration package would have been if there hadn’t been any sewage spills.

At the same time, it’s been reported that the sector’s regulator, Ofwat will soon decide about the level of increase for bills for the next five years. If it's any help to Ofwat, I opened my water bill and my electricity bill at the same time this morning – it was shocking!!  

Until next time.