Historic Royal Palaces, a charity governed by trustees partly appointed by the queen, has paid confidential settlements to staff to resolve racial discrimination and harassment complaints.
The Guardian has spoken with current and former staff members at Historic Royal Palaces, which maintains sites like the Tower of London and Kensington Palace, who described having witnessed or experienced racial harassment or discrimination.
In one case, an employee was paid a confidential settlement after a senior manager described visitors to the Tower of London as “bongo-bongo land.”
A spokesperson for Historic Royal Palaces agreed that confidentiality agreements were signed, but said they were not uncommon for charities seeking to profitably resolve disputes and did not represent formal admissions of wrongdoing or liability.
However, the charity said it acknowledged staff complaints and that a member of its board of directors would be tasked with conducting an internal review of the charity’s work environment.
The organization has made 25 payments under confidentiality agreements to staff members over the past eight years, according to information released to The Guardian in response to a freedom of information request. The payments collectively amounted to £ 488,090.
Not all payments related to instances in which staff complained of harassment or racial discrimination. At least two staff members who raised such complaints subsequently received confidentiality clause agreements.
In addition to the Tower of London, the charity runs a number of other vacant historic royal palaces, including Hampton Court Palace.
Most of its funding comes from ticket sales. As a result, its finances have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and last year the charity announced plans for 145 mandatory layoffs as well as changes in the working conditions of the staff due to a drop in income of 100 million pounds sterling.
The Guardian requested the information on the gag-clause payments after speaking with current and former staff who interact with visiting members of the public, known as state apartment wardens.
Several staff members referred to an incident in 2017 in which one of the Tower of London’s top managers described visiting tourists as “bongo-bongo land” during a meeting with staff.
After an external investigation was conducted following a complaint from a black employee, the manager, who has since retired, apologized to the employee for using the phrase, but HRP was not subject to any disciplinary action.
A spokesperson for HRP said the employee accepted the apology and therefore considered the incident to have been resolved. However, the employee, who declined to comment, was subsequently paid a confidential settlement and moved to a different palace.
Some current and former staff members who spoke to The Guardian complained that they felt there was a culture of favoritism, and that the careers of those in disgrace with the administration often struggled to advance.
It is understood that a staff member, who has since retired, received a confidential payment after alleging that he had been repeatedly discriminated against and overlooked for a promotion, despite years of service to the charity.
The former staff member, who is of BAME origin, is said to have been repeatedly asked to perform more important duties on a temporary basis and told that he was qualified for a promotion, only to be turned away when he applied for a promotion.
Another described feeling like “a shadow of my old self” after what she said was three years of bullying from her manager. She left the organization fearing that she would be “kicked out” from the charity if she did not accept an offer of voluntary dismissal.
“I followed all the correct avenues, followed all the procedures in the manual,” he said. “If you look at their manual, it says that bullying and things like that will not be tolerated. But it’s only lip service. It is tolerated and it is still happening. ”She believed she had confronted team leaders after supporting colleagues who felt they were being victimized.
Several current and former officials said they felt they had been discriminated against because of their background and questioned management’s determination to address racial discrimination.
One described hearing a comment from a colleague that they interpreted as racist and threatening. However, they said they were warned by a manager not to file a formal complaint.
“What they basically told me is: ‘What you are accusing someone of is racism, and that is something important to accuse someone of. Are you sure?’ they said. ‘If you go this route, you might get tar for life in this organization.’
In a statement, Historic Royal Palaces chief of media and public relations, Laura Hutchinson, said: “Historic Royal Palaces does not tolerate harassment and racial discrimination of any kind and is committed to treating all staff with dignity and respect in work place. We have comprehensive policies and procedures in place to support this commitment and ensure that any concerns are properly investigated and addressed.
“We have never sought to hide accusations of this nature. Rather, on the rare occasions when settlement agreements are required, they include provisions for employees to make disclosures, such as reporting misconduct.
“Creating a culture in which everyone feels included, valued and respected requires constant attention. When our standards are lacking, we must acknowledge our responsibilities, respond in a robust way to address complaints, and learn from experience.
“For this reason, the recently appointed chair of our people committee and trustee, Sarah Jenkins, will now oversee a review, looking at how the organization’s culture can fully reflect our commitment to equality and diversity.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism