Failure to investigate an untrue allegation - can this constitute race discrimination?

In the case of Singh v Cordant Security Limited the Claimant, Mr Singh, was employed as a security guard by the Respondent. An allegation was raised against him that he smelt of alcohol and, as such, he was sent home from work whilst the allegation was investigated.

In the meantime Mr Singh, who was of Indian ethnic origin, made an allegation that his supervisor, who was white, had used racially abusive language towards him. Cordant Security Limited failed to investigate this allegation and Mr Singh brought a claim for race discrimination.

The Employment Tribunal held that Mr Singh had been discriminated against on grounds of his race, and granted him a declaration. However, he was not awarded any compensation at remedy stage because he had no injury to feelings as the allegation he raised was found to be untrue.

The decision was appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal by Cordant Security Limited. At the EAT it was concluded that, in order for a claim for discrimination to succeed, there must be less favourable treatment on the grounds of one of the protected characteristics and the employee must have suffered a detriment. In this case, the allegation by Mr Singh was found by the Tribunal to be untrue, and, as such, he had not suffered a detriment. The appeal was allowed and the declaration set aside.

What lessons can be learnt from this?

If a grievance is raised it is best to err on the side of caution and ensure that it is properly investigated. In this case the Tribunal found that the allegation was untrue and, at appeal, Mr Singh’s case was lost. However, had Mr Singh’s allegation been found to be true, the company would have had an unfair dismissal finding against them and an injury to feelings award to be paid to him. The cost of defending a claim outweighs the cost of conducting an investigation.

If you would like to know more about race discrimination claims, please contact Nicola Cockerill at our Peterborough office on 01733 882800.

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This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.