Failure to reappoint was unconscious bias in recruitment process

The University of Portsmouth racially discriminated an employee with Indian heritage when it failed to reappoint her to a lecturing role she had carried out for several years, choosing a less-experienced white candidate instead. An employment tribunal said it was “extraordinary” that the employee had not been reappointed to a lecturing position she had held for five years. 

The tribunal noted that this meant 100% of the ethnic minority staff reapplying for their roles had not been recruited, whereas almost all white staff who reapplied were successful. It said this was statistically significant and the tribunal panel would have expected this to have triggered some form of enquiry under the university’s own policies.

The employee had held a five-year fixed-term contract as associate head of organisational studies and human resources management. She was aware that there was no expectation that incumbent employees would remain in post at the point of renewal and that she would have to reapply if she wanted to continue in the role, but people generally were reappointed if they wanted to stay on. She interviewed for the post and the two final candidates were the employee, who speaks with an Indian accent, and a white British woman. Of the three interviewers, one believed that the claimant was the top candidate, but the other two panel members voted for the other candidate, including the employee’s line manager.

The employee asked for feedback after hearing she had been unsuccessful and when this was not provided, she filed a grievance, suggesting that her race was a factor in the decision not to reappoint her.  She alleged that she had been treated less favourably than the white candidate. The tribunal found that the university had not been able to show the selection process had not been motivated by race and agreed that the line manager had treated the employee differently to white colleagues.

The Employment Tribunal concluded that the discrimination was subconscious stating that there was a reluctance to recognise the skills and abilities and aspirations of the employee and a failure to support and encourage her in the way that other white employees were supported and encouraged and this points towards a subconscious or unconscious bias.

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