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Racial discrimination claim brought against Virgin Atlantic is dismissed

22nd April, 2013

A man has had his claim for racial discrimination against airline Virgin Atlantic dismissed by the Employment Tribunal, after arguing that he was rejected for a job interview for a call centre role until he applied using a fake “Welsh” name. The claimant, Max Kpakio, was claiming £55,000 in compensation from Virgin Atlantic for loss of earnings and injury to feelings.

Cardiff Employment Tribunal heard how Mr Kpakio, who was born in Liberia and has lived in Britain for 10 years, was rejected for the role in the Swansea call centre and suspected it was because of his unusual name. He reapplied using a false name, Craig Owen, and said he was then immediately invited for an interview. Mr Kpakio said “the reason I was rejected was because of my ethnic origin – because I’m black African.” Mr Kpakio went on to say “I decided to test Virgin Atlantic by reapplying under a pseudonym. I chose the Welsh name Craig Owen and filed the job application, answering three main questions very similarly to how I had answered them on my original form.” His claims were denied by Virgin Atlantic which claimed that the two CVs submitted by Mr Kpakio were different, which led to Mr Kpakio being rejected for the role. Virgin Atlantic explained that the application under the name “Craig Owen” had cited five years’ experience working in Asda and Tesco which was not included on the other application that he submitted. Virgin Atlantic claimed that it was unable to tell Mr Kpakio was from Africa from his original application.

The provisions in relation to race discrimination, victimisation and harassment in the workplace under the Equality Act 2010 apply to all parts of employment (including recruitment). This means that it is unlawful for an employer to:

  • Discriminate directly by treating a job applicant or employee less favourably than others because of race;
  • Discriminate indirectly by applying a provision, criterion or practice that disadvantages job applicants or employees of a particular racial group without objective justification; and
  • Subject a job applicant or employee to race related harassment.

Mr Kpakio told the Tribunal “the CV and the equal opportunities form clearly identified me as someone not born here, not schooled here and a black African.” Alexander Robson, representing Virgin Atlantic, told Mr Kpakio “if you really wanted to test them you would have done so by simply changing the name and ticking a different ethnic box on the equal opportunities form. But you added work and an employment history which simply did not appear on the original. When we see the difference between the two CVs we see one with five years of customer-facing roles. The real reason you did that was not to test Virgin Atlantic but because you wanted to claim compensation.”

Mr Kpakio’s claim against Virgin Atlantic has been dismissed. The Employment Tribunal held that the applications Mr Kpakio submitted were different and that his race was therefore of no relevance in the decision not to invite him to interview. Judge Claire Sharp said, “they were different applications and the false application was clearly designed to meet the respondent’s criteria for the role.”

For further information or advice in relation to dealing with claims of racial discrimination, please contact Helen Watson on 01244 405565 or send an email to [email protected].

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