Claimant wins appeal after tribunal chairman’s skin colour comment

The difficulties facing workers with ethnic minority backgrounds were placed into sharp focus last week.

A claimant won an appeal after revealing how the tribunal chairman had dismissed her discrimination claim because she looked “as white as the English”.

Anita Ho, who is of Vietnamese origin, had stated that she was treated less-favourably than other staff by cleaning firm Crystal Services on grounds of her race, because of her colour.

Ho had complained of discriminatory treatment, bullying and verbal abuse from a colleague. Although she complained to her manager, no action was taken.

But the tribunal chairman implied she had no case for discrimination because of her physical appearance. He said: “Your skin looks whiter than mine”.

Ho’s solicitor, Mohini Bharania, employment lawyer at Russell Jones & Walker, said: “It is crucial that extra barriers are not placed in front of victims of discrimination seeking justice, especially by the very people who are due to hear their case fairly and impartially.”

Ho said: “[The chairman] made me feel humiliated and almost mocked me for bringing my complaint. I have pale skin and speak with a noticeable non-native English accent.

“I do not think his comments were appropriate. It felt like he was saying that a Vietnamese person shouldn’t bring a claim for race discrimination.”

After her complaint was thrown out, Ho took the case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), which last week overturned the earlier tribunal’s decision.

The main issues in Ho’s appeal were whether she had received a fair hearing at the original tribunal and whether the board and the chairman had given the appearance of bias against her during the hearing.

The EAT in east London accepted Ho’s account as correct, preferring it to the chairman’s. In its judgment, the EAT said: “We are not concerned with actual bias but the perception of bias, according to the standards of the modern fair-minded observer.”

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