Proving Race Discrimination In Employment

Direct race discrimination is when an organisation (or an employee of the organisation) treats a person less favourably than someone else on racial grounds. Proving direct race discrimination is not trivial. The burden of proof is on the employee alleging the discrimination. The UK landmark case of Chagger v Abbey National plc & Hopkins of 2006, where the Employment Tribunal’s finding of race discrimination led (after Abbey National’s refusal to comply with the Tribunal’s order to re-instate Mr Chagger to remedy its wrongdoing) to the record 2.8 million compensation order, serves to illustrate the burden of proof in race discrimination. Abbey National (being re-branded as Santander from 2010 and being part of the Banco Santander Group) employed Balbinder Chagger as one of its two Trading Risk Controllers, both managed by Nigel Hopkins. Mr Chagger was of Indian origin. He earned approximately 100,000 per year. Abbey National dismissed him in 2006, apparently for reasons of redundancy. The redundancy pool of selection was he and the other Trading Risk Controller, a white female.

The employee alleging the race discrimination must prove that his employer, on the balance of probabilities, discriminated against him on racial grounds. On the balance of probabilities means that the alleger needs to prove that it is more likely than not that the employer treated him differently on the grounds of his race; the alleger does not need to prove with absolute certainty that the employer discriminated.

The alleger must prove that he was treated less favourably than someone else (preferably a real comparator, but it could also be a hypothetical comparator) on the grounds of race. This can often be very difficult because the employer will almost always deny that the alleged discrimination had anything to do with race.

Mr Chagger established a case based on facts suggesting there had been race discrimination. The Employment Tribunal found that Mr Chagger had been selected for redundancy and had been dismissed and that a real comparator (the other Trading Risk Controller) had not. The Tribunal noted that there was a difference in race, colour and ethnic origin between Mr Chagger and the comparator. The Tribunal noted the following: Mr Chagger’s selection for redundancy was grossly unfair; Mr Hopkins had predetermined that Mr Chagger would be the employee that would be selected for redundancy; Mr Hopkins had used the redundancy selection process as a means to remove Mr Chagger from his position; Mr Hopkins had reduced Mr Chagger’s redundancy scores on matters which no reasonable employer would have taken into account; Abbey National provided no Equal Opportunity training for any of the managers it assigned to hear and decide on Mr Chagger’s issues and complaints of race discrimination; Abbey National failed to answer Mr Chagger’s Race Relations Act Questionnaire; and Abbey National was in breach of the statutory Code of Practice on Racial Policy in Employment by failing to carry out monitoring, failing to take allegations of race discrimination seriously, and failing to investigate them promptly.

If the alleger can establish a case based on facts suggesting there has been race discrimination, then the burden of proof could shift to the employer to prove otherwise. The employer will then be burdened with the task of having to prove that it would have treated in a similar way someone else who was not of the same racial group as the alleger. If the employer does not have any non-discriminatory explanation, or if the Tribunal finds the explanation inadequate or unsatisfactory, then the Tribunal must infer discrimination on racial grounds.

The Tribunal was satisfied that, on the balance of probabilities, Abbey National and Mr Hopkins had discriminated against Mr Chagger on the grounds of race in respect of his dismissal. The Tribunal, therefore, passed the burden of proof to Abbey National and Mr Hopkins to show that there was no discrimination whatsoever in respect of Mr Chagger’s selection for redundancy and dismissal.

The employer will almost always deny that the alleged discrimination had anything to do with race. The explanation that Abbey National and Mr Hopkins put forward was that the selection for redundancy and dismissal was carried out fairly. The Tribunal rejected this explanation for the factors listed above. Abbey National then put forward an alternative explanation, that Mr Hopkins and Mr Chagger could not have had any reasonable working relationship (that is, the difference in treatment suffered by Mr Chagger was for a reason other than racial grounds). The Tribunal could not rely on this explanation; it was an explanation that Mr Hopkins himself did not accept.