A man who was turned down for a job with a London estate agent because of his Ugandan accent has been awarded £3000.00 by an Employment Tribunal.
Barnard Marcus estate agents were found to be liable for unlawful race discrimination.
Shemi Leira who is 31 and has lived in the UK for 16 years applied to become a mortgage consultant at one of the Respondent's branches in Central London. Barnard Marcus is part of the national Connells chain.
He was given a 10 minute interview and told the Tribunal that he would be informed of the outcome later that day. Several weeks later he contacted the Respondent to chase up the outcome of the interview and said that he was told that his voice "did not fit in with the company's sophisticated central London market."
He also alleged that the interview had been conducted in a hostile and intimidating manner and had focused more on his origins and reason for being in the UK than on his skills.
The Tribunal found that whilst there was no conscious discrimination the Claimant's African origins and accent had unconsciously influenced the decision not to give him the job.
The fact that the Claimant was only awarded £3000.00 in damages would tend to suggest that these were for hurt feelings and not for financial loss, which would in turn tend to suggest that the likelihood was that he would not have got the job anyway. This would perhaps make sense given that he had, as the Respondent pointed out, no relevant recent experience.
Do not be lulled into a false sense of security however - damages for discrimination can be unlimited and if he had been the favourite to get a very well paid job the bill could have been very much higher - and it will have cost the Respondent more than £3000.00 in legal costs and negative publicity.
The case is another reminder that you can be liable to someone who never works for you and that once facts are proved from which discrimination can be inferred the legal onus is on the employer/recruiter to prove that race had no part whatever in the decision -something that can be very difficult to establish.