Is caste a protected characteristic?

In our E-news in January 2015, we considered the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT)’s decision in Chandhok v Tirkey, which was the first EAT case to consider caste-based discrimination. Click here to read.

Ms Tirkey worked for Mr and Mrs Chandhok and was paid 11p an hour to be their cleaner and nanny. She claimed that they treated her badly and in a demeaning manner, partly because she was from a lower caste.

At the EAT, the Chandhoks argued that this part of the claim should be struck out because caste is not a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act 2010. However, the EAT held that, while caste is not by itself a “protected characteristic”, it may form part of an individual’s ethnic origin and that ‘ethnic origin’ has a ‘wide and flexible scope’ and must include descent, which is closely linked to caste. As such, the EAT refused to strike out the claim of caste discrimination and permitted the claim to proceed to a full hearing at the Employment Tribunal.

At the Employment Tribunal, the panel found in favour of Ms Tirkey in relation to all of her claims, including unlawful deductions of wages, unfair dismissal, religious discrimination, breaches of the Working Time Regulations 1999 and importantly, race discrimination. In doing so, Ms Tirkey was awarded nearly £184,000 in relation to the shortfall in payment of the national minimum wage alone and the remedy for her other claims will be determined at a hearing later this year.

Employers should in light of this decision be mindful of the fact that, whilst caste is not yet a freestanding protected characteristic, employees can bring claims for discrimination relating to their caste, if their ethnic or national origin was the reason for their treatment.

Whilst it remains to be seen whether this case will pave the way for further caste discrimination claims, it is likely that financial barriers, including the employment tribunal fee regime, could deter these individuals from pursuing their rights in the employment tribunal.

If you have any questions regarding this case, please contact:
Sejal Raja
Partner

sejal.raja@rlb-law.com
0207 227 7410


Disclaimer

This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.

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