Jamaican-born Juliette Giscombe, the mother of comedian and radio DJ Richard Blackwood, appeared before an employment tribunal in London this week claiming constructive dismissal and discrimination on the grounds of age and race against the Hilton hotel group.
Ms Giscombe, 57, of Streatham, south London, worked as a telephonist claims manager at Hilton's flagship Park Lane hotel in Mayfair. She alleges managers "bullied and patronised" her, treated her like a "skivvy", and repeatedly overlooked her for promotion in favour of younger, less experienced white workers.
Giving evidence to Central London Employment Tribunal, the mother-of-two said she repeatedly complained to the hotel's human resources department about essentially working under a "glass ceiling" but to no avail.
"During the period of time I was complaining, there were no senior black members of staff in front-of-house positions," she said.
"My observation of my time at the hotel was that they did not recruit black staff to the front-of-house positions where they would be visible to the public.
"I found myself unable to progress. I could not understand why this was. I can only assume that it was in relation to my race.
"They could not conceive of a black person doing anything other than a menial role. They did invest in staff, providing they were white."
Ms Giscombe joined the company in 1999 and says she first began to suspect bias in 2002. "I remained in the same position as I had been when I first started whilst other staff, most of whom I had trained and were white, moved on into better positions."
She claims that as a result, other members of staff looked down on her and that one taunted her with "abusive language".
Apparently the situation became so stressful that it made her ill and she signed off sick for several months between 2006 and 2008.
"I was signed off work with stress, anxiety and depression," Ms Giscombe told the tribunal.
"I also had a number of bereavements in my family between 2006 and 2008 but received little sympathy from work."
Breaking into tears, she said: "I recall an incident after the death of my father. Whilst I was attending his body at the funeral parlour I received a phone call from the front office manager who ordered me to return to work immediately.
"I told him I was at the funeral parlour. His response was that he had a business to run and wanted me to work."
On another occasion, the company asked her to provide valid proof of her immigration status.
She said: "The request was not made to non-white staff. At this stage I had worked for the company for almost 10 years. I was a British citizen so why were they questioning my right to work in the UK?"
Ms Giscombe says the treatment forced her to resign in October 2010. She is claiming £60,000 compensation for loss of earnings and injury to feelings.
The hotel denies the allegations.
The hearing continues.
- Hilton hotel 'avoided employing black staff where they would be visible to public' (Telegraph)
- Race and age discrimination laws (Findlaw.co.uk)
- Constructive dismissal law (Findlaw.co.uk)
- Constructive dismissal law news (The Solicitor)
- Find an employment solicitor (Contact Law)