Lawyers for exclusive Mayfair casino Aspinalls have denied the company has an “institutional culture of racism or sexism" after being sued by a black croupier who says she was subjected to "violating" racism and sexism.
Semhar Tesfagiorgis said she was the victim of direct and indirect race and sex discrimination while working at Aspinalls, including management’s alleged granting of a wealthy gambler’s request for a "fair-skinned" dealer.
She is bringing action against Crown London Aspinalls, managing director Michael Branson and human resources manager Laura Attrill at the Central London Employment Tribunal.
Aspinalls lawyer Kerenza Davis told the tribunal that the allegations did not meet requirements for discrimination.
She said Tesfagiorgis had complained about "a handful of discreet incidents”, including managers complying with the patron's requests for a white dealer, and a similar incident where a patron's request for a white female dealer was granted.
Davis said that since the incidents allegedly happened "over several years" and managers had changed since then, there was "no evidence of an institutional culture of racism or sexism" at the casino.
"While the requests themselves may have related to race or sex, any decision to accommodate them was not because of the claimant's race or sex. It would have been because of a wrong perception by the junior manager to accommodate patrons' requests,” Davis said.
"The people involved were uncomfortable with the request and felt too uncomfortable to challenge it,” she said. "This does not make it right but it doesn't fall within the claims of discrimination."
Tesfagiorgis said that after the request for a white dealer was made, Branson told her in a private meeting that she could not expect his staff to "turn away a million-pound customer" and that the patron could not be racist because he had a non-white friend.
Tesfagiorgis’ lawyer, Elaine Banton, described her experience as "violating".
"I can't think of anything more crushing than being told to your face that 'we don't want you, we want a white woman', knowing that your employer is going to action that. Of course it's violating."
Banton told the tribunal that the casino no longer had any black female staff, and all black male employees work "behind the scenes" as kitchen or waiting staff, rather than being "front of house".
"It is no accident that there are no black men working in the casino and no black females in management,” she said.
Earlier, Banton said an email had been forwarded to Attrill in 2017, after Tesfagiorgis had complained of a racist incident at the casino, suggesting that staff and management discuss how racist incidents were handled. But this did not materialise.
“That opportunity was missed and it was not addressed,” Banton said.
She told the tribunal that at the time of the 2019 complaint, Aspinalls had just three black front-of-house staff members, all of whom were women.
Attrill said there were black members of staff in other departments across the company and an unacceptable behaviour policy was in place that outlined what staff members should do if patrons break the rules.
Banton said: "I suggest that there was a systemic issue at the workplace that involved racial profiles that should have been addressed."
Tesfagiorgis, who is British and of East African heritage, was employed as a dealer at the casino from 2007 until she was furloughed in 2020.
All three respondents have denied the claims against them.
Aspinalls casino was set up by gambling club host and animal enthusiast John Aspinall in the 1960s, and was bought by Australian entertainment group Crown Resorts in 2011.
The case continues.
Meanwhile, a lack of tourists in London has had an impact on Grosvenor Casinos, which suffered a 20 percent fall in net gaming revenues in the third quarter compared with 2019.
Rank Group, its owner, said revenues outside the capital were close to pre-COVID levels, although Mecca Bingo halls were down 22 percent as older and more frequent customers have been slower to return.
Rank's UK digital business returned to growth, rising 12 percent.