Race discrimination

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Sometimes employers want to minimise disruption when dismissing an employee, even for misconduct. Putting a false redundancy label on a misconduct situation can be costly though, even if it is well intentioned. The Court of Appeal looked at this issue recently in Base Childrenswear v Otshudi.

The employee was a photographer from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She had been employed for three months when she was made redundant. The employee alleged to the dismissing manager that her dismissal was related to her race, which he strongly denied. Her subsequent grievance was ignored. She then brought a discrimination claim. The employer defended the claim, maintaining that her dismissal was due to redundancy.

Employer defence change

Over a year later, only a few weeks before the hearing, the employer changed its defence. They said the employee had been dismissed due to suspicions of theft. He said he had lied about the reason for dismissal to avoid confrontation with the employee. At the hearing, the employment tribunal upheld the discrimination claim. The tribunal drew inferences from the employer’s refusal to respond to the discrimination grievance. The employer had continued to cite redundancy as the reason for dismissal when it was clear that confrontation was unavoidable. The tribunal said that the employer was trying to cover up a dismissal tainted by race. The Court of Appeal refused to interfere. They said that giving an entirely false reason for treatment in the face of a discrimination allegation can be a sign that discrimination has taken place. Although the employer’s belief in the employee’s guilt may have been genuine, the Court of Appeal said it was based on so little evidence or investigation that it had to be down to stereotypical assumptions about black people.

This case shows the danger of putting a false label on any dismissal. If a dismissal is justified, it should be dealt with via the proper channels.