Race Discrimination Claim Was Not Too Late

July 22, 2013

Race Discrimination Claim Was Not Too Late

The Court of Appeal has ruled (Charles v Tesco Stores Ltd.) that the Employment Tribunal (ET) erred when it struck out an employee’s race discrimination claim on the ground that it had been lodged too late. In ruling that the claim was out of time, the ET had wrongly focused on a single incident and had not recognised that the complaint was one of continuing discrimination.

Gregory Charles, who is black, was employed by Tesco as a forklift truck driver. He had lodged a ‘dignity at work’ grievance against a fellow worker in June 2009. After a lengthy delay, which Mr Charles claims was the result of race discrimination, his grievance was upheld. He also alleges that an initial offer of compensation, made at a meeting on 17 August 2010, was subsequently ‘taken off the table’ after consultation with management and that its withdrawal was discriminatory.

The ET declined jurisdiction to hear Mr Charles’s claim on the ground that it had been lodged outside the three-month time limit laid down by the Race Relations Act 1976 (now superseded by the Equality Act 2010). In the ET’s opinion, that time had started to run on 4 June 2010, when Mr Charles was told that stage one of the grievance process had been completed and informed that witnesses did not support his grievance. In the ET’s view, this was the last action relied on by Mr Charles to support his claim of race discrimination and the proceedings, which were lodged in October 2010, were therefore out of time. The Employment Appeal Tribunal subsequently dismissed Mr Charles’s appeal on the ground that it raised no issue of law.

In allowing the appeal, the Court of Appeal ruled that, on a true analysis, Mr Charles’s complaint was one of continuing victimisation and discrimination that extended beyond 4 June 2010 and encompassed the withdrawal of the compensation offer in August 2010 and alleged detrimental treatment arising from previous ET proceedings that he had instituted against the same employer.

The Court of Appeal expressed no view on the merits of the employee’s complaint, which will now go forward for a full hearing before the ET.