You are here

Children's charity cleared of race discrimination

9 August 2010

A children’s charity has been cleared of race discrimination by the Court of Appeal. The action against St Christopher’s Fellowship, which specialises in helping young runaways, was brought by Barbara Walters- Ennis, a black woman who sold her fostering business to the charity and stayed on as a manager.

The court heard that Walters-Ennis clashed with the charity over recruitment, first over the appointment of her sister-in-law as voluntary assistant to the fostering team.

Delivering the leading judgment in St Christopher’s Fellowship v Walters-Ennis [2010] EWCA Civ 921, Lord Justice Mummery said the charity reversed the appointment.

He said the initial job offer was withdrawn, but the reason was not explained “adequately or at all” to Walters-Ennis.

“The respondent required that the claimant should not be involved in the recruitment process for an office assistant or in the line management of her once recruited,” he said.

Mummery LJ said the second disagreement was over the appointment by Walters-Ennis of an ex-colleague to be a temporary administrator at the charity’s Southend office.

“She was not, as the respondent mistakenly believed, a friend of the claimant,” he said.

Walters-Ennis discovered that the post was to be the subject of a formal recruitment exercise and was informed that she was not going to be involved in the interview process.

Interviews were held and the ex-colleague of Walters-Ennis was not appointed and resigned. Walters-Ennis complained about being excluded from the interviews and later resigned herself.

An employment tribunal upheld her claim of constructive dismissal and ordered the charity to pay her £28,200 in compensation. St Christopher’s Fellowship accepted this finding.

It disagreed with the tribunal’s further ruling, that it should pay Walters-Ennis £14,800 for racial discrimination under the Race Relations Act 1976, on the grounds that she was excluded from the interviewing process.

“The respondent regards the finding of discrimination as unjustified in fact, erroneous in law and damaging to its reputation as an organisation that works closely with vulnerable children of all races,” Mummery LJ said.

He said Walters-Ennis had successfully argued at the tribunal that there was no other explanation, apart from race, for the “high-handed” way in which she was treated by being excluded from the recruitment process for the administrator job in Southend.

However, Mummery LJ said the employment tribunal had dismissed Walters-Ennis’ race discrimination claim against the charity for withdrawing her sister-in-law’s appointment.

Mummery LJ said there was a “significant similarity” between this incident and the second disagreement over the ex-colleague, and the tribunal had come to a “surprising conclusion” in treating the later incident as discrimination.

He said the charity held a “genuine, though mistaken, non-racial belief” that there was a friendship between the ex-colleague and Walters-Ennis, raising a conflict of interest.

“The fact that it was mistaken could not, in the context of scrupulous attention to recruitment procedures, reasonably be held to have the effect of indicating the presence of racial grounds and so shifting the burden of proof to the respondent to prove that it had not committed an act of race discrimination,” Mummery LJ said. He allowed the charity’s appeal. Lord Justices Wilson and Patten agreed.

Categorised in:

Discrimination Health & Safety EU & International