A British Australian employee has sued a company in Hong Kong after being called a “gweilo” by staff and eventually getting fired.
In an equal opportunities lawsuit filed with the District Court last week, blasting specialist Francis William Haden accused Leighton Contractors (Asia) of racial discrimination that cost him his job.
Haden claimed that the company had violated the Race Discrimination Ordinance with his dismissal in February last year, South China Morning Post reports.
According to court documents, Haden was tasked to be in charge of the blasting work for the construction of the Tseung Kwan O-Lam Tin tunnel in August 2016.
The project, which was a joint venture between Leighton and China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong), was expected to be completed in 2021.
Haden said that since taking the assignment, he felt discriminated against and excluded by his co-workers, noting how some of the employees called him “gweilo” in a derogatory sense. A combination of “gwái”, which means “ghost/devil”, and “lóu,” which means “man,” the Cantonese term gweilo literally means “ghostly/devil man.”
Commonly used by locals to refer to westerners, the term was originally used to connote an offensive racial slur. However, many have come to consider it to be an acceptable generic term for Caucasians over time and are now often used in non-derogatory context.
Workers from China State would reportedly question “why so many gweilos are working on the project,” Haden said.
He also claimed that his former employer often arranged meetings on the days he was off, without providing him minutes afterward.
Haden further noted that China State did not want non-Chinese involved in the project so he was prevented from hiring blasting specialists from Australia. China State even allegedly gave Haden’s Chinese subordinate some tasks to perform without letting him know.
Since he did not understand Chinese, Haden explained that when he told his superiors about his concerns, he remained isolated. Haden filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission because he felt that racial discrimination led to his eventual firing in February 2017.
The commission completed its investigation in March this year and proposed that both parties engage in conciliation talks.
When Leighton refused to accept the suggestion. Haden decided to pursue the case and take it to the District Court.
He is now seeking $200,000 Hong Kong dollars ($25,500) in compensation for injury to his feelings in addition to the amount that he should have been paid in total since the day he was fired.