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Queen's University


Does a university professor's unexplained hostility towards a black post-doctoral candidate indicate racial discrimination?


In 1994, Oxford University's Department of Materials short-listed two equally qualified and experienced candidates for a position as post-doctoral research assistant (P.D.R.A.) to Dr. Steven Roberts. When the white candidate (Dr. Lawrence) got the job, the black candidate (Dr. Anya) filed a complaint of racial discrimination. He entered into evidence a series of prior events in which Dr. Roberts, with whom he had already worked as a P.D.R.A., demonstrated what he considered to be racially motivated hostility.  He also presented into evidence a series of alleged breaches of the university's equal opportunity policy  made by Dr. Roberts, the chair of the hiring committee. The Employment Tribunal ruled in favour of Dr. Roberts who found him to be a credible witness despite several contradictions that arose in cross-examination. They ruled that it was unnecessary to examine closely the series of unexplained hostile events preceding the hiring decision, in light of Dr. Roberts' good character.  An Employment Appeals Tribunal supported this decision, but the Appeals Court overturned it and sent the case back to a new Employment Tribunal.


  1. If a respondent is credible, can a tribunal automatically rule in his favor?
  2. Is it appropriate to make inferences of racial discrimination when the evidence is not overt?
  3. Should a tribunal consider only the event which is the subject of the complaint?
  4. If the contextual evidence points towards a history of discrimination, is the respondent automatically guilty of the complaint at hand?
  5. Did the Employment Tribunal err?
  6. Should this case be remitted to a New Employment Tribunal?


  1. No
  2. Yes
  3. No
  4. No
  5. Yes
  6. Yes


  1. A respondent can be credible and guilty of racial discrimination. People are often unaware that their actions constitute racial discrimination.
  2. Most commonly, evidence of racial discrimination is not overt.  People tend to deny, to themselves and to others, that they are guilty of such a transgression.  It is therefore necessary and proper for a tribunal to hear the evidence, to make a finding of primary facts (a series of key events) and then draw inferences of racial discrimination where appropriate.  For example, a tribunal can infer that a respondent has committed an act of racial discrimination if he/she has provided an evasive response on a statutory questionnaire or has provided no (satisfactory) explanation of a discriminatory event involving a racial minority.
  3. Although the tribunal has jurisdiction to make a ruling only on the event about which someone has officially complained, they are required to make this ruling by considering this particular event in the context of a series of prior and latter events.
  4. When a respondent provides a satisfactory explanation for an act, such that it does not constitute racial discrimination, the tribunal may chose to rule in his favor, even if their analysis of prior events points to a history of racially discriminatory acts.
  5. In this case, the tribunal failed in their duty to analyze the primary facts and to draw inferences from them. It also failed to analyze the contradictions in the respondent's testimony. It is not enough to find a person to be honest and credible. A Tribunal must prove, on a balance of probabilities, that an act of discrimination occurred or did not occur.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000