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UK professor fails on racism complaint after boss suggested sushi restaurant to her

‘She was making small talk and trying to establish a point of shared interest’

A judge recently ruled against a professor who accused her provost of racism for suggesting a sushi restaurant.

Professor Nana Sato-Rossberg works at the University of London. She accused her boss, Provost Claire Ozanne, of racism for one time telling her about a local sushi restaurant she might enjoy, during one conversation in 2021.

Sato-Rossberg (pictured, right) is Japanese.

“After [the School of Oriental and African Studies] dismissed her claims following an internal investigation, Prof Sato-Rossberg took the university to the employment tribunal claiming race discrimination, race harassment, victimisation and unfair treatment for whistleblowing,” The Telegraph reported on May 15.

Sato-Rossberg had already accused Provost Ozanne of being “unconsciously biased,” The Telegraph reported. Ozanne (pictured, left) now works at Liverpool Hope University.

“On one occasion in 18 months, [Prof] Ozanne spoke to [Prof Sato-Rossberg] warmly about her local Japanese restaurant and her family’s love of sushi,” Employment Judge Jillian Brown ruled, according to The Telegraph.

“She did so, knowing that [Prof Sato-Rossberg] was Japanese and believing that [she] would receive this positively,” the judge wrote. “She was making small talk and trying to establish a point of shared interest. Ms Ozanne said nothing detrimental about Japan.”

Judge Brown wrote further:

The tribunal decided that [Prof] Ozanne mentioning a sushi restaurant and her family’s love of sushi was not a detriment because a reasonable person would not consider themselves at a disadvantage when a manager, trying to be friendly and find common ground, was enthusiastic about food from the person’s country of origin.

A reasonable person would not take offence at such complimentary and friendly words.
In this case, [Prof] Ozanne’s words were not even ‘unfortunate’. They were not reasonably seen as hurtful or misjudged.

On the contrary, [Prof Sato-Rossberg’s] objection reflected [her] own hypersensitivity and predisposition to find fault with Ms Ozanne.

Academics have previously found racism in small talk.

Rutgers University Professor Kyra Sutton complained several years ago after she forgot her key while in an elevator at a conference. The white male who pressed the button for her told her she’d want to get a new key. Instead of taking this as small talk, and a helpful suggestion as elevators sometimes will not operate without a client’s key, Sutton believed he was being racist.

“Just then, I found my room key and decisively pressed the button. When the elevator stopped at the other guest’s floor, I stared at him and waited for an apology,” Sutton wrote. “He left without a word.”

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IMAGES: Liverpool Hope University/Facebook; University of London

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.