The claimant in Kelly v Covance Laboratories Limited started contract work in an animal testing laboratory with a six-month probationary period. Early on, there were concerns about her conduct and performance. The company's involvement in animal testing had previously made it the subject of attention from animal rights activists, including violent assaults on some of its employees. During the early weeks of her employment the claimant's behaviour – including going to the bathroom for long periods with her phone and speaking in Russian on the phone – was sufficiently unusual for a new employee in her position for her line manager to worry that she might be an animal rights infiltrator. There had been previous such incidents.
As a result, the line manager instructed her not to speak in Russian at work. He considered it important that any workplace conversations should be capable of being understood by English speaking managers. When the claimant objected that two Ukrainian colleagues also spoke Russian at work, he passed on similar instructions to their line managers.
Other disciplinary issues were raised with the claimant, but she resigned and brought a race discrimination claim. This was rejected by the Tribunal and the EAT.
It is possible for an instruction to an employee not to speak in his or her home language in the workplace to amount to direct race discrimination on the grounds of nationality, on the basis that language is intrinsically part of nationality. However, in this case there was an explanation other than race. There were good reasons for the instruction, which would have been given to any employee speaking a language other than English in circumstances that gave the employer cause for concern.