In the recent case of Khawaja v Transport for London, a Tribunal found that an employee had been subjected to direct race discrimination by his manager in respect of the allocation of training opportunities.
The Claimant (who is of Pakistani origin) was employed by TfL as a Principal Tunnel Traffic Co-ordinator on the London tube network. Having resigned from his position in June 2018, he brought a number of claims against his former employer, including a claim for direct race discrimination. In doing so, he alleged his manager had told him “since English is not your first language, I did not assign you to attend any conference calls or operations centre huddles. I think that you may give the wrong information due to your lack of command of the English Language”. He also claimed that he was not put forward for any training courses.
The calls in question took place twice a day and huddles were held on an ad hoc basis, both of which were said by the Claimant to be training and development opportunities. By not allowing him to attend these, the Claimant claimed he was being treated less favourably than his White colleagues.
The Claimant’s manager denied making the statement. Whilst she accepted she had not put the Claimant forward, she said she had not done so because he was on probation at the time and had also shown no interest in attending. However, having heard her evidence, the Tribunal found (on the balance of probabilities) that she had made the alleged comment about English not being the Claimant’s first language and that he may give wrong information due to his lack of command of the English language. Furthermore, it did not find any evidence to suggest that she had been supportive of the Claimant going on courses or that she had referred him for any training opportunities. Based on the evidence, the Tribunal found that the treatment the Claimant had received had been because of race and held that his claim of direct race discrimination was well founded.
The case serves as a useful reminder for organisations who employ staff for whom English is not their first language. Whilst it is of course possible to have language requirements for certain roles, it is important that they are not discriminatory. If you are looking to introduce any such requirements in your business and have concerns about doing so, do please get in touch with a member of our Employment Team.