Amnesty in trouble

1 09 2009

There are some things you just don’t expect to come across, like good weather at Bank Holiday weekends for instance, or Amnesty International being found by the Employment Appeal Tribunal to have discriminated against one of its employees on the grounds of race.  Yet that is what was found to have occurred in the case of Amnesty International v Ahmed that was reported recently. 

It’s an interesting case and not just because of the involvement of Amnesty in it. It states that the motivation of the employer in taking the action it did is irrelevant if the action taken is discriminatory in itself.  In this case Amnesty refused to appoint Ms Ahmed, a Sudanese lady, to be its Sudan researcher because it perceived there to be two potential difficulties with her appointment.  Firstly it was concerned that her impartiality might be called into question, especially given the sensitivity of the conflict in the Darfur region and because she was from north Sudan. Secondly,  Amnesty was worried for her safety and those working with her because of her nationality.  Consequently it decided that she should not be appointed to the role, despite the fact that she waa the best qualified for it.  A claim for race discrimination followed and Ms Ahmed succeeded.  Amnesty was held to have directly discriminated against Ms Ahmed on grounds of her racial origins.

A further argument by Amnesty that to have sent Ms Ahmed to Sudan would have caused them to breach health and safety law was not accepted by the EAT. 

The lesson for employers here is that any steps that might discriminate against an employee on the grounds of race (or sex) even when, as in this case, there might be seemingly sensible or benign reasons behind the decision, may well amount to discrimination.  Employers beware!

Thanks to Daniel Barnett’s case law update for bringing this to my attention.