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Former Le Gavroche employee sues for alleged racism after dismissal

19 June 2014 by
Former Le Gavroche employee sues for alleged racism after dismissal

A receptionist at two Michelin-starred London restaurant Le Gavroche is suing it for racism after she was fired and replaced by a white woman to meet and greet diners.

Bento Touray, who is Spanish, was let go from Michel Roux Jr's establishment in September last year after only three weeks in the job.

Touray claimed general manager Emmanuel Landré, who was on holiday when she was hired, told her to leave and she believed that the restaurant did not employ black people front of house.

She claimed on his return Mr Landré had ignored her and it was "apparent" he disliked her before alleging she was replaced with a white receptionist.

However staff at Le Gavroche claimed she had poor language skills, was badly organised and did not provide the exceptional level of service expected at one of the best restaurants in the world.

Touray told the Central London Employment Tribunal: "I was dismissed because I am black. I was made to feel like one of the oddest employees there. They treated me differently because I am black. Le Gavroche does not employ non-white staff front of house. This was confirmed by comments from my white predecessor."

Touray was hired on 23 August by the restaurant's assistant manager Ursula Perberschlager, after a day's trial. She claims she was given the job permanently and signed a contract; however the restaurant states she was only given a month's trial.

Her role was to open the door for customers, greet them as they came in, show them their tables, look after the cloakroom and open the door for them on the way out. She denied she had ever been told her work was not up to standard or challenged on any mistakes.

She said: "There were no complaints about how I fulfilled my role. No other staff at Le Gavroche made any complaint.

"When Mr Landré came back from holiday things changed. It doesn't make sense to me. He treated me differently, he barely talked to me. It was apparent Mr Landré did not like me, he did not speak to me. He would often ignore me and not even say hello."

She claims the general manager told her on 11 September that would be her last day of work, as she was no longer needed.

She said: "I asked why and also if I had done anything wrong. Mr Landré said that my work was good but they did not need another receptionist. I subsequently learned Mr Landré had recruited a new receptionist, I presumed he had her lined up when he dismissed me. She is of white skin colour."

"I genuinely believe I have been subjected to race discrimination."

However, Landré denied his sacking of Touray had anything to do with her race. He said: "Since it opened in 1967, Le Gavroche has always employed individuals with many different ethnic identities in both kitchen and front of house.

"The allegation that Le Gavroche does not employ non-white staff is simply not true; in 2013 alone we employed thirteen non-white employees in our front of house team. Five of the individuals in the receptionist role since the start of 2013 have been non-white.

"Touray's suggestion that individuals are employed or treated differently according to their race is entirely untrue and without foundation."

He said: "I do not agree that I did not like Miss Touray, my only concern was with her behaviour to our clients and whether she was capable of performing her role at Le Gavroche.

"Despite additional training and close supervision I did not observe sufficient improvement in her performance. Miss Touray displayed a lack of organisation in how she performed her duties, often mixing up guest's property and taking guests to the wrong tables.

"Due to her poor communication skills she was unable to undertake various administrative tasks or conduct telephone calls. I was very concerned by a failure on her part to be sufficiently personable with the guests. This is an extremely serious failure.

"She was the first experience people had of Le Gavroche, and their last, so would be their lasting impression. She affected the feeling people got out of the restaurant, and this would damage the reputation of Le Gavroche.

"Our clients pay a lot of money to come here. As one of only a handful of two Michelin starred restaurants in the world customers of Le Gavroche have the highest expectations, and we always aim to exceed those expectations."

The court also heard from Noemi Guy, who had been a receptionist at Le Gavroche before being promoted to Mr Roux and Mr Landré's PA.

She said: "I am a Swiss national, born in Haiti and of Black Caribbean descent. I did the same job as the claimant. It was a hard job; you had to be at your best all the time. There were high expectations but I made it though.

"I was never treated differently by Mr Landré or anyone else because of my colour."

The tribunal continues.

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