Services company Serco was not guilty of breaking the Race Discrimination Act when it dismissed a bus driver who was a British National Party (BNP) councillor, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
Arthur Redfearn was employed by Serco to transport vulnerable adults and children to schools and day-centres. He was elected to Bradford Council for the BNP in 2004.
Serco dismissed him on health and safety grounds, as part of its duty of care to its passengers, fellow employees and Redfearn himself.
The Court of Appeal ruling overturned an earlier Employment Appeal Tribunal decision to refer the case back to a new tribunal, to re-hear Redfearn’s allegations of discrimination on racial grounds, after the original tribunal had rejected his claim.
In the ruling, Lord Justice Mummery, sitting with two fellow judges said: “Mr Redfearn was no more dismissed ‘on racial grounds’ than an employee who is dismissed for racially abusing his employer, a fellow employee or a valued customer. Any other result would be incompatible with the purpose of the 1976 [Race Discrimination] Act.”
Chris Hyman, Serco group chief executive said: “Mr Redfearn was dismissed because of the potential threat his public support for BNP policies posed to the wellbeing of our clients and our employees.
“The idea that we breached the Race Discrimination Act by dismissing Mr Redfearn was, frankly, ridiculous. We are grateful to the judges for their clear and unambiguous ruling.”
Michael Ryley, employment partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, which represented Serco, said: “This is an important decision for the future of race relations law in this country.
“There was widespread concern that, if Serco had not successfully appealed the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the efforts of those seeking to promote best practice in tackling racial discrimination in the workplace would have been seriously undermined.”
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber also welcomed the “clear and robust” ruling.
“Serco was right to say that BNP activists should not hold this kind of job, and deserve credit for taking on this case that has now established this important precedent,” he said.
Jane Amphlett, partner at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, noted that Redfearn did not have sufficient service to bring an unfair dismissal claim
“Had he done so, Serco would have needed to demonstrate that its concern that his continued employment constituted a risk to the safety of its customers and staff – because membership of the BNP could provoke strong reactions from those opposed to its policies – was sufficient to justify his dismissal, that they acted reasonably and that they followed fair procedures in dismissing him, to avoid such a claim,” she said.
For more legal analysis of this case see the 13 June issue of Personnel Today