Can an employer’s failure to investigate a fabricated allegation amount to race discrimination?
An employee could not complain of race discrimination when his employer failed to investigate a made up grievance as he had not suffered a detriment.
An employee had been treated less favourably when his employer investigated an allegation against him but failed to investigate an allegation he made that his manager had racially abused him. However, he could not succeed in a claim of direct discrimination, as he also needed to show that he had suffered a detriment. He had not suffered a detriment as the allegation was untrue.
In Singh v Cordant Security Mr Singh was of Indian ethnic origin. His manager was informed that Mr Singh smelt of alcohol at work. He sent him home whilst he investigated the allegation. Mr Singh subsequently alleged that his manager, who was white, had used racially abusive language towards him. His employer did not investigate his allegation.
He claimed race discrimination, alleging that his employer’s failure to investigate his grievance amounted to race discrimination. His employer had investigated the allegation against him but had not investigated his grievance against his manager. This was less favourable treatment on grounds of race.
The employment tribunal decided that that Mr Singh had made up the allegation but still upheld his race discrimination claim. However, it awarded no compensation on the basis that he had suffered no injury to feelings as his allegation was untrue.
The employer appealed
The Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned the decision. It was necessary for Mr Singh to show not only that his employer had treated him less favourably but also that it had subjected him to a detriment.
A sense of grievance or injustice may amount to a sufficient detriment, but Mr Singh could have no sense of grievance or injustice arising from his employer’s failure to investigate a false allegation. He had suffered no detriment and his race discrimination claim failed.
Employers should always investigate grievances raised by employees. Although the employer in this case was ultimately successful in defending the race discrimination claim, this was only because the tribunal concluded that the employee made up the allegation. If the employer had investigated the allegation, it would have concluded that it was fabricated, rejected the grievance and may have avoided a race discrimination claim.
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