Calling someone “king of the jungle” is not racist because the moniker can refer to a lion, a judge has ruled.
The comments came as a senior Border Force officer won a £16,000 payout for unfair dismissal after using the phrase to describe a black colleague’s importance in the organisation.
Joel Gold, 47, was dismissed by the Home Office in June 2018 after an internal investigation found that others who overheard the comment to the Nigerian man “winced” at its offensiveness.
Now Mr Gold, a father of three from Deal, in Kent, has successfully sued after an employment judge found investigators had not considered the full context of his remark or fully investigated it.
Judge Timothy Russell said: “On the one hand [his colleague], to whom Mr Gold referred, was a black Nigerian man and might have taken offence. On the other hand, Mr Gold was clear that no-one present had taken offence. Indeed, no one had reported it.
“Such a remark – bearing in mind the king of the jungle is normally regarded as a lion, after all – can be innocent of any offence if referring, for instance, to the king pin in a hierarchy.”
Judge Russell said the Home Office investigator “did not seem to countenance an innocent explanation for the remark” and criticised her for “preferring to adopt the evidence that supported the charge without further investigation”.
The hearing was told that in addition to the “King of the Jungle” comment, Mr Gold, who worked as a Border Force agent for 23 years, was accused of making other racist remarks, including calling a colleague a “Paki”. But at the London South employment tribunal in Croydon, Judge Russell ruled that the “die was cast” during the Home Office’s investigation and Mr Gold had “no chance” of convincing them he might be innocent.
There was “unreliable” evidence to suggest Mr Gold called people “Gooks” and there was an inadequate investigation into whether he called a co-worker “Pakistani” rather than “Paki”, Judge Russell said.
In his ruling, he said: “I find there was an air of inevitability about the eventual determination from investigation through to the appeal outcome. I find all involved in that process were too ready to conclude Mr Gold was guilty.
“The focus was, whilst attempting to follow Home office procedure, to find fault with Mr Gold and either ignore or give no or little credence to his alternative explanation. There was no obvious attempt to step back and consider the overall fairness of procedure.”
Mr Gold, who Judge Russell said deserved a proper investigation due to his long years of unblemished service, won £16,371 for his unfair dismissal claim.