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Queen's University


Is the unreasonable treatment of a person from an ethnic minority automatically considered to be racial discrimination?


In the late eighties, three out of fourteen teachers were short-listed for a promotion to Head of Sciences in the London Borough of Newham. Two were Caucasian, the other, Qureshi, was of Asian origin. The hiring committee failed to adhere to two hiring policies: the open reference policy and the Equal Opportunities Policy;  it neither gave the candidates sufficient notice to respond to any adverse comments in their references (of which Qureshi had several), nor did it not provide the hiring panel with ethnic monitoring statistics, equal opportunity training, a list of objective job criteria, or even a full job description.

When Qureshi was not hired, he went to an Employment Tribunal (ET) claiming that the Borough had discriminated against him on the basis of race when it decided not to give him the job and when it breached the equality of opportunity policies. They made an inference of racial discrimination based on the following reasoning:

The two policies in question should have been applied to all candidates. One of the candidates was an ethnic minority. Therefore racial discrimination was the underlying, hidden, reason that the panel failed to apply the policies.

An Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) overturned that decision; the committee's non-adherence to the policies had to do with administrative incompetence, not racial discrimination. The Appeal's Court agreed with the EAT (Qureshi v London Borough of Newham [1991] IRLR 264, CA).


  1. Was the ET's inference of racial discrimination flawed? 
  2. Is there another non-racial reason for the failure to follow policy?


  1. Yes
  2. Yes


  1. The failure of the committee to follow policy does not necessitate a finding of racial discrimination. Moreover, the committee did not deliberately fail to follow policy, and its decision not to hire Qureshi was not based on race issues. "If there are no hints of prejudice in the failure to apply the Equal Opportunities Policy, the more natural inference for the failure to apply would be that there had been a failure in relation to all other candidates". 
  2. The failure to follow policy was based in administrative incompetence, not racial discrimination. Qureshi was treated unreasonably, but was not racially discriminated against.

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