Amnesty International loses race case over bid to keep worker from harm

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International committed racial discrimination against an employee whom it did not promote in case it put her at risk.


The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) recently upheld a decision by the employment tribunal that Amnesty had directly discriminated against Miss Bashair Ahmed when it did not promote her to the role of Sudan researcher. Ahmed is of north Sudanese origin and became a UK national in 1998.


Because of serious tensions between north and south in Sudan – as evidenced by the crisis in the Darfur region of the country – Amnesty decided her appointment could raise two serious issues: one about its impartiality, and the other that she may be exposed to personal risk if she visited the region.


But the EAT rejected these arguments, saying the only question was if the ground for less favourable treatment than other applicants for the post was Ahmed’s ethnic origins, which amounted to direct discrimination.


Commenting, Helen Davies, professional support lawyer at Lovells, said: “In cases where discrimination is obvious, where the employer applies a criterion which is of its nature discriminatory, motive should not be examined. Once the tribunal had found that the decision not to appoint the claimant was her ethnic origin, that was the end of the matter.


“Amnesty’s second argument was that it could rely on a defence under the race discrimination legislation for actions which are necessary to comply with a statutory provision. Sending the employee to Sudan would breach the employer’s statutory health and safety duties.


“However,” added Davies, “the EAT decided that the risk was not insurmountable and therefore did not provide a defence and, in any event, there can be no such defence to race discrimination, a European law concept, under a UK statute.”

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