So what does a Grammar Racist look like?

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I have heard of Grammar Nazis but until yesterday I had not heard of Grammar Racists. Apparently correcting someone’s grammar is not just rude, it is actually racist if the person you are correcting was not born in your country or is bi-lingual.



A lawyer ordered to pay $7500 compensation for racial harassment and bullying a Sudanese-born law clerk says he was only correcting his grammar.

A decision from the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found that John Appleby, the sole director and practitioner at Ladbrook Law in Auckland, had unfairly discriminated against his former employee, Rabah Bashir.

Appleby said on Friday he disputed the claim of racism and was due to lodge an appeal.

The case related to his former employee Bashir, who emigrated from Sudan aged 11, graduated with a law degree from Wellington’s Victoria University in 2013 and started working for Appleby in September 2013 as a law clerk.

Bashir and Appleby initially had a collegial relationship, the ERA decision said.

However that changed from June 2014 onwards, with Bashir citing several examples where Appleby corrected his written English.

The decision said Appleby made comments to Bashir that “bilingual speakers have weaknesses in both languages” and “written English can at times be difficult for non-native speakers”.

They had an argument on October 21, 2014 where Appleby was said to have been “agitated” and “raised his voice to Mr Bashir”.

Appleby apologised to Bashir that day and arranged for the pair to meet with his wife, who was responsible for HR matters.

Bashir was made redundant at the end of 2014 in a restructuring due to business viability.

He then took his case to the Employment Relations Authority.

ERA member Tania Tetitaha ruled “there was evidence Mr Bashir was hurt by the respondent’s behaviour”.

And she said: “There was no evidential foundation for Mr Appleby to comment upon Mr Bashir’s racial background including in particular his bilingualism when critiquing his work performance”.

Tetitaha also found there was no contributing factors to warrant the racial harassment.

However, on the claim of bullying she said there was evidence that “Mr Bashir was being somewhat belligerent at times in his dealings with Mr Appleby causing the outbursts. This was both causative and blameworthy behaviour and justifies a 25 percent reduction in compensation”.

Appleby told the ERA he “failed to accept the comments were offensive and hurtful”.

He said he was due to appeal the $7500 payment. “It sends a chilling message when correcting grammar leads to accusations of racism.”

– Stuff



For an interesting discussion about  racism and correcting grammar click here.



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  • Gazza

    I am speechless

    • Orca

      You forgot the full stop at the end of your sentence.

      • Woody

        It could be argued that a lack of a full stop in that instance is grammatically correct, he was rendered speechless, therefore the sentence is still open.

        I have an expectation that everything out of a lawyers office is not open to misinterpretation so the sentence structure needs to be immaculate regardless of the colour of your skin.

        Isn’t our language a marvelous thing.

        Edit. Corrected one example of poor grammar.?

        • rua kenana

          Don’t you need “?” at end of 2nd to last paragraph instead of “.”?

          • Woody

            Nope, because it was a statement, not a question so I really should have framed the statement in a different fashion.

          • rua kenana

            You mean it was a grammatically inappropriate statement because it was asked as a question?

      • Gazza

        That’s it then….see you at the tribunal! (must remember to check grammar, check)

        • Orca

          You forgot the full stop at the end of your sentence, again.

          • Disinfectant

            Priceless, thank you for the laugh.

          • Gazza


  • sheppy

    Aaand the dumbing down of society continues. Presumably people can look forward to legal documents being written in txt speak so as not to offend any young people they employ?
    This reinforces my opinion that employing people in NZ is too hard and too risky.

    • Just had some documentation prepared and very basic mistakes still present in the second draft resulted in hand written corrections in final document, not a good look.

  • Second time around

    A law firm is likely to have internal standards for writing which may even be at variance with common or accepted practice. Provided whatever is being asked is consistent and documentable, the law clerk should expect to conform.

  • Orca

    What would happen if the incorrect grammar of the law clerk led to the loss of a lawsuit, due to incorrect legal wording. Can the lawyer then sue his clerk?

  • Huia

    Not Racist, not bullying.
    The Law firms have high standards and wording must be exact.
    Feel very sorry for the Lawyer in this case as the Law clerks coming out of Law School need to be taught what it is really like in the work force.
    One slip up on a document could mean hundreds of thousands of business and dollars lost to the firm.
    Thumbs up to the Lawyer for doing his job and trying to teach a clerk who thinks he knows it all and hides under the colour and racist umbrella instead of growing some and learning another aspect of his chosen career.
    This judge wants a kick in the duster for buying into this garbage.

    • Hobbes

      Have a look at who the “judge” was and then ask yourself if you are at all surprised.

      • Huia

        I am not surprised by much these days Hobbes.
        Having been an employer and seen first hand how any single thing you say can be taken as “an offence” by someone who is wet behind the ears, has been rewarded and praised for participation all through school and Uni instead of striving and developing a healthy competitiveness.
        They have become much too tender to take an impartment of knowledge or constructive criticism without weeping, getting their knickers into a knot and taking everything personal, they forget they are actually working for you in your business.
        A lot of young people in this age of mollycoddling the weak, can cause chaos in a workplace with their being offended at every turn when they are really turning their backs on further learning and grabbing onto the knowledge coming their way and working to get ahead.
        They forget this is your business, you have worked it hard to get to the point where you need a specific person to work for you and represent your interests.
        It is not always bullying when things don’t go your way.

  • Brian Smaller

    I never used to be bothered with grammar, capitalisation and punctuation until the day I had to help my uncle jack off a horse.

    Entire legal cases are argued around the position of a comma. I would be seriously concerned if my lawyer was not a grammar Nazi.

  • metalnwood

    What do you say, really? Does the ERA not take the context of things?

    So he said that ESL might not be helping his grammar, which is entirely appropriate in the context of the problem and it is called a racial issue.

    I assume that in the process of telling the guy his grammar was bad he was trying to console him somewhat by telling him it’s normal for ESL to have some issue.

    No doubt if he was just straight to the point and more brutal he wouldnt have a problem.

    Edit, with people I know in emails and even a lot of forums like this I dont care so much but when dealing with people in a professional context it can stick out like a sore thumb. I would think twice about money paid to a lawyer if his education looked like it stopped at 15.

    • Bluemanning

      The ERA do consider circumstance and evidence, but from my experience, have to adjudicate mainly on the dismissal process carried out by the employer. I had to dismiss a employee who was caught stealing both material items and using company time for her husband’s business, incidentally he was on a sickness benefit as well. I fired her on the spot without following the set procedure. I knew the ramifications however I had to get rid. She took me as the company representative to the tribunal attempting to sue for $35 thousand. The female moderator saw through the ex employee, commended me for being a reasonable employer and fined the company $6 thousand for not following procedure. If she could have I felt the case would have been dismissed. Over the years I had to let people go and at the time inquired through my peers on the current correct procedure.Noone really knew, the EMA not much help either. My business plan had a miscellaneous provision to cover acts of unavoidable human nature :-) this guy got the usual penalty and should let it go.

      • Falcor

        “an” employee.
        Bloody grammar

  • Orca

    Grammar is the difference between knowing your [email protected] and knowing you’re [email protected]

  • taxpayer

    “Mr Bashir was being somewhat belligerent at times in his dealings with Mr Appleby causing the outbursts. This was both causative and blameworthy behaviour and justifies a 25 percent reduction in compensation”.
    No not a 25 percent reduction, it justifies the case being thrown out.
    If a employee has a belligerent attitude towards their employer or any other staff then that is surely fair grounds for dismissal.
    I would say the cry of racism is nothing more than a ploy to try and extract money from the employer and Mr Bashir is just one of those people who can take no constructive criticism or instruction from anyone, even the man paying the wages.
    There are lots of people like that, they are unemployable.

  • Annie218

    ERA cases are all about whether or not a ‘the process’ was followed. It sounds like there were bigger issues at play than grammar in the relationship.
    An employee is contracted to follow company policy & employers are obligated to address issues using a set process that the employee is aware of. Its a pity that the ‘judge’ didn’t pursue the employee’s attitudes further.
    I feel sorry for Appleby as he was trying to address what he saw as important issues for his firm’s reputation, but he was also dealing with an employee who appears to be carrying some baggage.
    I am continually correcting grammar in documents being sent out to clients. Now I will probably make the corrections without any of the previous coaching I provided.

    • jonno1

      I once had a staff member who was excellent at researching issues and solving problems but useless at writing reports, so I always rewrote them for the client, while giving credit to the employee for the content. One day a client came to me saying a certain report was incomprehensible! It turned out my employee had gone behind my back to try and gain the client directly, without the client being aware of this. That didn’t turn out well!

  • jonno1

    I like to think that my spelling and grammar is reasonably good, but if someone corrects me I am extremely grateful. Proverbs 9:9 ”Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning” and 12:1 ”Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid” come to mind. I can’t for the life of me see where racism comes into play.

    • Grumpy of Onehunga

      Sorry, I can’t resist this. Surely you mean your spelling and grammar ARE reasonably good…..

      • jonno1

        Well I was treating “spelling and grammar” as a single entity… But I stand corrected and thank you for your kind advice :).

  • Orca

    Everything in grammar is supposed to be black and white. Oops!

  • oldmanNZ

    oh no, this mean they will really look at hiring people who only have excellent grammar (or will this be deem racist)?

    so if you are not qualified and not hired, it is racist?

  • Usaywot

    I get really brassed off when pakeha are berated by maori for mispronouncing maori words while maori blissfully carry on speaking and writing appalling english. Dare we criticise? Not on your nellie! Yep, racist.

  • Ruahine

    This guy has been stitched up. You make your complaint to the ERA. It is looked over by members of the Authority to see what is involved and then a ‘suitable’ Authority member is appointed to achieve a suitable outcome. Tania Tetitaha I believe was that person.

    • oldmanNZ

      we need some research on this lawyer and if there is such a trend ?

  • Eiselmann

    So ERA are saying that if I suffer financially or legally as a client of a lawyer because of grammatic mistakes by the law firm , thats okay as long as the person who made the error is bilingual and or someone who came from a country where English is not their native language…and to complain would be racist….wow.

    I’d like to think a lawyer would be able to ensure anything put into writing was clear and correct, apparently not.

  • Superman

    The accusation of racism is a sure sign that the accuser has lost the argument. If you criticize someone for behaving badly or for any reason you become a racist. It’s time those accusing others of racism on the flimsiest of pretexts are brought to book and made to pay a price. I have been learning French for almost 40 years and although I can speak it quite well my biggest fear is making grammatical errors. The French hate their language being mangled but it certainly doesn’t make them racist. Bad grammar and not caring about it is a sign of general sloppiness and lack of self esteem and pride. If a CV arrives with a job application and it contains a lot of grammatical errors and text-spelling it goes straight into the bin. Not even considered.

  • He’s a lawyer. His documents need to be in proper English. Correct in every regard.

    I have the same sort of thing at work. Almost all my co workers are immigrants from non English speaking countries. My office is the most cosmopolitan place I’ve ever been and mostly its great fun.

    However I’m forever having plans and documents redone because what’s written on them is incomprehensible to the average person. And its a pretty average person that is using them.

    I know it grinds some of their gears and I regularly get a “well English isn’t my first language” flipped back at me.

    There is a huge technical component to our work and if the jargon is
    confused the errors in the field become expensive time consuming and
    frustrating for somebody AND then I get the job of defending the person
    who made the error.

    I refuse to rise to the bait and just give them the look. In moments they generally get the message and fix the errors.
    This doesn’t make me racist it makes me diligent.

    • Andinz

      Totally agree. ERA member Tania Tetitaha (who seems to have legal knowledge also) says that there is evidence that comments made by Appleby were hurtful as “There was no evidential foundation for Mr Appleby to comment upon Mr Bashir’s racial background including in particular his bilingualism when
      critiquing his work performance”. Was Bashir not a non-native being born in the Sudan? Is he not bilingual? Are these not valid reasons for Bashir to take more care that his LEGAL work conforms to NZ Legal English? Evidence for me!
      The race card seems to be played by Tetitaha and it is irrelevant when professional work must be up to scratch. Bashir may not see the inside of another law office unless he accepts the kind of atmosphere you have, WW. Good for you with what you do!


    English being my second language, I find it often annoying when Kiwis don’t correct obvious mistakes I make at times, even after urging them to help me improve my skills…..they don’t want to embarrass me… typical for ‘our’ culture.

  • OneTrack

    And how are front line teachers supposed to get on since we have so many ESOL kids now? Sorry headmaster, you aren’t allowed to tell Mohammad that his english spelling is “wrong” because that would be waysis?

  • Larry

    Luckily for Mr Appleby he can probably present his own case. For everyone else the cost is prohibitive so even if you win, you lose.

  • waldopepper

    wow. an immigrant playing the race card. theres a shock.

  • Superman

    This is my second comment on this post and it contains a direst quote from the publishers of a book so the moderators may delete it. The situation is so aggravating that I must add another comment. I have recently ordered a book from with the title “Into The Cannibal’s Pot”. This is the publishers note at the beginning of the book and it speaks directly to the major problem we have here:

    “This is a book about ideas and ideology. When losing an intellectual argument, there are despicable people who point an accusing finger and shout racism. In our dark times where mob rule and collectivist ideas resonate with so many, this appalling strategy can be very effective.

    To those who support colorblind civil discourse, rule of law, equality of opportunity, freedom, the golden rule (do unto others as you wish them to do unto you) liberty, freedom of expression and religion and private property rights… regardless of skin color or ethnic background (black, red, white, yellow, brown, green or violet) we extend the hand of friendship

    To those who support all forms of thuggery – including totalitarianism, collectivism, fascism, extremist fundamentalism, unequal treatment under law, income redistribution, nanny state government programs and the soft bigotry of low expectations – your skin color and ethnicity are irrelevant… and your ideas belong in the dustbin of history.”

  • johnandali

    I subscribe to a blog that regularly publishes spelling and grammatical errors. But the rules of the blog are that even though we might wince when we notice an error, we’re not to make any comment about it. I’m one of those nit-pickers who can identify a spelling mistake at a glance, but I comply with the requirement. Reluctantly, I must admit. And I’d hate to be dyslexic. It would be interesting to learn how people who are dyslexic cope with administrative tasks, and how the affliction affects their careers.

    • Thank god for spell cheque!

      • NeverMindTheBoll

        Don’t you mean – thank dog?

    • Miss Phit

      Being dyslexic isnt bad. Most of the time its KO.

  • Sceptic59

    As a grammar Nazi I take a fence that someone would describe his actions as racist!

  • Uncle Bully

    A couple of examples of grammar from some who should know better:
    “… gives New Zealanders a sense of joyfulness…” – John Key. Didn’t he mean a sense of joy?
    “…anxiousness…” – TV3 reporter. Anxiety perhaps?

  • Andy

    “Let’s eat, Grandma.” There, all corrected.