Tribunal dismisses racial discrimination claims against dance label R&S Records

By Mark Savage
BBC Music Correspondent

Published
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The accusations were made as part of an employment tribunal claim

The head of dance label R&S Records, Renaat Vandepapeliere, has had a claim accusing him of racial discrimination dismissed by an employment tribunal.

Raj Chaudhuri, who acted as a talent scout, sued the label last year, saying he was discriminated against, unlawfully dismissed, and victimised.

The label said there was "no truth" in what it described as "spurious" claims.

A tribunal in London has now ruled the case cannot proceed as Mr Chaudhuri was a freelancer, not an employee.

Mr Vandepapeliere said he was "delighted" at the result.

"This last two years has been absolute hell for me and my partner Sabine, my family and the artists on our record label," he said in a statement.

"My artistic policy for R&S Records has always been inclusive and Raj Chaudhuri knew that. He also knew that allegations of racism would have a devastating impact on me and my business."

Mr Chaudhuri had no comment on the ruling, but his lawyer said he planned to appeal the decision.

Image source, Renaat Vandepapeliere / Instagram
Image caption,
Renaat Vandepapeliere established R&S Records with Sabine Maes in 1983

Launched in Belgium in 1984, R&S Records has released some of the most seminal tracks in electronic music, from Joey Beltram's Energy Flash to Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85-92.

In his claim to the employment tribunal, Mr Chaudhuri said he had repeatedly attempted to "diversify the label and the artists it worked with", but found his efforts frustrated or criticised.

He alleged that some of the BAME artists he championed were dismissed as "terrible" and "crap".

He also accused Mr Vandepapeliere of dismissing music by some ethnic minority artists as "meaningless" and of describing the history of techno as "very white".

Mr Vandepapeliere strenuously denied the claims, as did the label's co-founder.

"Mr Renaat Vandepapeliere is certainly not racist and everyone at R&S Records embraces equality," said Sabine Maes, who is also Mr Vandepapeliere's wife, in a statement at the time.

'Erratic and irregular'

The employment tribunal did not rule on the substance of Mr Chaudhuri's claims, saying that his case was not covered by the Equality Act as he was not "in employment under a contract to personally do work" at the label.

"He was an independent freelancer and an entrepreneur," wrote Judge Victoria Wright in her judgment. "Once he had met [Mr Vandepapeliere] he saw an opportunity to align himself with [R&S Records], to benefit his own reputation as a DJ (and all of the other activities he pursued)."

She pointed to emails sent by Mr Chaudhuri, in which he described himself as "a freelancer" who undertook "various works for lots of different projects and personal work as well".

The nature of his £700-a-month contract to find and suggest new talent to R&S Records was "erratic and irregular," she noted.

Mr Chaudhuri "was free to choose how and where to do the work, or not to do it at all. "

"The claimant was not in need of protection, was not vulnerable and was not being exploited," she added.

'Champion and supporter'

Responding to the ruling, R&S Records said it was "a world class label working with music's top creative artists signed for their ability to write and produce great tracks irrespective of colour, creed or gender".

Mr Vandepapeliere added: "Differences of opinion over music and artistic direction in a record label are one thing, but to falsely label them as racism or racial inequality is wrong; it undermines the very fabric of tackling racism and makes a mockery of those who are genuinely fighting inequality.

"Dance music has always been about uniting people through the commonality and love of electronic music, regardless of ethnicity, colour, religion or sexuality.

"I have always been a champion and supporter of original artists. Signing an artist is about their talents; the music they make and produce - it's what the label stands for.

"As the tribunal Judge found, my priority is, 'the integrity of the music R&S Records produced'."

In a statement, Mr Chaudhuri's lawyer, Lawrence Davies, said: "We are about to appeal the judgment to the Employment Appeal Tribunal because we believe it is important that self-employed workers have the benefit of Equality Act 2010 protection.

"Further, it is important to note that the underlying substantive allegations of racism were not examined or decided upon by the tribunal."

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