The EAT upheld a decision by a tribunal that a black employee was directly discriminated against when his senior manager stated that he believed the employee’s complaint about his direct line manager’s conduct was associated with the employee’s race.  

However, an employer’s incompetent investigation into an employee’s grievance is not one of direct race discrimination. As a side issue, the employee, who had been off work due to depression, was not disabled for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It is important to get expert medical evidence where an alleged disability is associated with mental impairment. The facts are as follows:

  • The claimant worked as a software engineer for the Royal Bank of Scotland; the respondent in this case. He did not get on with his manager.  
  • The claimant met with a senior manager following a number of incidents with his manager. During this meeting, the senior manager said that the claimant was alleging that his manager’s conduct was associated with race. The claimant resented the suggestion that he was “playing the race card”.  
  • The claimant was then off sick for stress and anxiety and lodged a grievance regarding his manager’s conduct. The claimant’s grievance was not adequately processed or considered. The claimant subsequently resigned and issued various employment tribunal claims against the respondent.  

A tribunal found that the claimant had been unfairly dismissed and unlawfully discriminated against. The EAT confirmed that the senior manager had treated the claimant’s complaint as a complaint by a black employee against a white manager and not just a straightforward complaint by one colleague against another. Although the respondent’s grievance procedure was incompetent, it was not classed as direct race discrimination as there was no evidence to show that the respondent would have been more competent in handling a white employee’s grievance.  

Key Point – This case shows the importance of ensuring all managers are properly trained and are fully aware of the employer’s grievance procedure. In these circumstances, employers are encouraged to try to resolve any occurrences of racial discrimination with a formal apology, if appropriate, or through a structured grievance procedure to ensure the complainant’s concerns are fully addressed.  

Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Morris 2012