The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has handed down its decision in Amnesty International v Ahmed which can be accessed here, where it upheld the tribunal's decision that Amnesty was in breach of the Race Relations Act 1976 by refusing to appoint a Sudanese woman to the post of Sudanese researcher, on grounds that the organisation would appear to lack impartiality.

In this case, the claimant had resigned and brought a claim for race discrimination and constructive dismissal.

In reaching this conclusion, the EAT considered whether motive is a relevant consideration, ie, whether it makes a difference if the discrimination is intentional, or simply the unintended result of a benign policy. The EAT confirmed that an employer that treats an employee less favourably on racial grounds cannot escape liability for direct discrimination simply because it has a benign motive for its actions. Because Amnesty’s decision not to appoint the claimant as a researcher was solely based on her ethnic origins, it was found that there had been direct discrimination.

The EAT overturned the tribunal's decision that Amnesty’s act of direct discrimination amounted to a breach of the implied contractual term of mutual trust and confidence. However, given that Amnesty’s decision had been reached after a careful and thorough process, and for genuine reasons that showed no racial prejudice, the EAT said that it could not be said that the organisation had acted without reasonable and proper cause in a manner calculated or likely to destroy or seriously damage its relationship with the claimant, and so the constructive dismissal claim therefore failed.

This judgment is a useful reminder to employers to be alert to the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976, even where the motives behind their actions are entirely benign.