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Case law: unconscious stereotyping leads to race ruling

Following a recent case, employers should ensure that line managers are trained to spot types of workplace situations in which they might otherwise apply unconscious stereotyping amounting to race discrimination, so they can look out for them and avoid discrimination; and that complaints from any worker are taken at face value and handled well.

Legal Alert

This update was published in Legal Alert - May 2012

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

In this case, an employer’s assumption that a black employee’s complaint against a white manager would be racially motivated, despite there being no evidence of this, amounted to race discrimination, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled in a recent case.

A black employee had a meeting with a more senior manager after problems developed with his immediate manager over a two-year period. During the meeting the senior manager referred to the ‘racial problem’ between the employee and his manager.

The employee felt that this remark was evidence of an assumption by the senior manager that he was ‘playing the race card’. In fact, there was nothing in his complaint to make the senior manager think he was. He brought a claim for discrimination on grounds that the senior manager’s apparent assumption was discriminatory, because the senior manager would not have made the same assumption if the employee had been white and the manager black.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed that the senior manager had applied a racial stereotype, and would not have made the same assumption if the complaint had been by a white employee against a black manager. It also found that the comment made was genuinely demeaning. Altogether, this amounted to discrimination because there had been less favourable treatment of the employee on racial grounds.

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