Court dismisses 'gweilo' discrimination case

The employee claimed he'd been dismissed because of his race

Court dismisses 'gweilo' discrimination case

The district court has dismissed an employment discrimination case brought against a company by an employee who claimed he had been directly discriminated against, claiming he’d been dismissed because of his race, which would have been in breach of the ‘Race Discrimination Ordinance’.

The employee was involved in construction. The project they were working on was a joint venture between the employer and a Chinese firm. The employee said that he felt discriminated against and excluded by his co-workers and was derogatorily referred to as ‘gweilo’.

‘Gweilo’, a term that translates to ‘ghost/devil man’, is widely used to describe Caucasians. For some time, there has been debate over whether the word is a racial slur or simply a common term to describe foreigners. 

The employee had filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission who recommended that both parties engage in conciliation talks – this was refused by the employer, so the worker took his case to the district court, seeking $200,000 Hong Kong dollars in compensation for injury to his feelings, in addition to the amount he should have been paid since the day he was fired.

The worker argued that he was competent and technically good at his job, that he had been bypassed and excluded from communications that ultimately left him usurped from his role, the term ‘gweilo’ was used by team members working on the project and the issue of racism had been raised with the a director, and there was lack of due process in his termination.

The court cited evidence which showed the employee could not maintain good working relationships, that his role had not been usurped because his approval was required for relevant documentation, his complaint of racism was directed at personnel from the employer’s joint venture partner and could not be attributed to the employer and the mere use of the word ‘gweilo’ could not show that there was racial discrimination.

Ultimately, the court found that the real cause of the plaintiff’s dismissal was his inter-personal skills and working relationship with other team members, something he had been duly warned about.

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