A three-time Michelin-starred chef is being sued for religious discrimination after he allegedly ordered an employee to take off his traditional Sikh bangle in case it got stuck in a ladle.
Herbert Berger is being sued by Niranjit Moorah Singh, who claims he told him to remove the bracelet which had been given to him by his late Malaysian grandfather 35 years ago.
The £30,000 a year assistant manager complained that he had never in “20 years working and living in London” been asked to remove the bangle.
He compared it to asking a Christian to take off a crucifix or a Muslim to remove a hijab.
In the Sikh religion, some devotees wear a traditional metal bangle, called a Kara, as a sign of their faith.
Mr Singh is now taking the Austrian-born chef to an employment tribunal.
As part of his case, he claims that Mr Berger – who has won three Michelin stars in three different establishments – asked him to take the bangle off because he was concerned it could get "stuck" in a "ladle whilst saucing the food".
Claimant says being asked to remove bangle was ‘against the law’
The central London employment tribunal heard that Mr Singh began working as “casual staff” for Mr Berger’s catering establishment at Innholders Hall, in the capital, in 2010.
Over the next eight years, he worked up to the role of assistant manager and continued to work in the role until his employment ended in September 2020.
Mr Berger received his first Michelin star at the Connoisseur, followed by a star for the Grill Room at the Café Royal. He won a third at 1 Lombard Street.
In his written evidence, Mr Singh told the tribunal: "Every time Herbert sees me wearing my Sikh Bangle since April he asked me to remove it.
"He calls it a bracelet; he never [asks] me what is this in your hand that you [are] wearing.
"[In] my 20 years working and living in London no employer has asked me to remove my Sikh bangle."
On the origin of his Sikh bangle, Mr Singh added: "[The] bangle was given to me by my late grandfather who was still alive in Malaysia.
"I brought this with me in memory of him and I have used this Sikh bangle in my hand for more than 35 years now.
"No employer has ever asked me in my life to remove this bangle during work. [Mr Berger] says that the bangle will get stuck in his ladle while saucing the food.
"Can we please ask him to demonstrate and run a show while we are there at Innholders Hall if he is right?
"Asking someone to remove their religious signs from their body is against the law: can be a cross of Jesus or a hijab.
"I have gone through a very hard time since being furloughed and lost my full income; not only thinking about how I can look after my family back home but going through a depression period of losing everything in my life especially thinking about my Sikh bangle.
"I was afraid to approach Herbert during work and the length I was employed and ask him why I am not allowed to wear this Sikh bangle."
Second chance for claimant to argue his case
Mr Berger’s lawyers successfully applied to have Mr Singh’s claims of religious discrimination thrown out in July, claiming it was scandalous or vexatious or had no reasonable prospect of success.
However, the tribunal has now acknowledged Mr Singh had been unaware of the hearing, and will give him another opportunity to argue his claim in December.
Employment Judge Paul Stewart said he had struck the claim out after a preliminary hearing went ahead without Mr Singh or his legal representatives attending.
Mr Singh had said this was because he was at work and unable to answer phone calls.
Judge Stewart said: "It appears to me… that [Mr Singh] did not know of the preliminary hearing that was fixed for July 7.
"Further, if he did not know of that hearing, he could not have known that there was an application pending from [Mr Berger] to strike out his claim."
A representative for Herbert Berger at Innholders Hall was contacted for comment.