Is caste now a protected characteristic for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010?

Although the Equality Act 2010 does not expressly refer to caste as one of the protected characteristics, the Employment Tribunal in Chandok v Tirkey has recently confirmed that many of the aspects of caste discrimination come within the ambit of race discrimination. 

Facts

Ms Tirkey was an Indian national, a Christian and a member of the Adivasi caste.  She initially worked for the Respondents, Mr and Mrs Chandok, in India at the home of the father of one of the Respondents. She then came to work in the United Kingdom for the Respondents as a domestic worker and nanny. 

Ms Tirkey complained that throughout her time in the UK, some 6 years, she was not paid the National Minimum Wage, was not afforded daily or weekly rest and was not paid annual leave. She alleged that she was not given itemised pay slips or a statement of her terms and conditions of employment. Ms Tirkey further claimed that during her employment she was subjected to harassment on the ground of her race and indirect discrimination on the ground of her religion or belief contrary to the Equality Act 2010. 

In particular, Ms Tirkey claimed that her ethnic origins, including her nationality and her hereditary position in society, in whole or in part on the basis of her caste, was the reason why she was treated the way that she was by the Respondents. She also claimed that she was prevented from practising her religion and she alleged that she was unfairly dismissed.  

Decision

The Tribunal found in favour of Ms Tirkey in relation to her complaints by unanimous decision, including her claims for unlawful harassment on the ground of her race and indirect discrimination on the ground of her religion.

Under the Equality Act 2010, ethnic origin forms part of the definition of race.  The Tribunal found that many of the characteristics of caste fall within the concept of ethnic origin and therefore within the definition of race under the Equality Act. This means that in many cases individuals alleging discrimination on the grounds of caste may be able to bring a claim for discrimination on the grounds of race. 

Ms Tirkey was awarded over £180,000, mainly in relation to the Respondent’s failure to pay her the National Minimum Wage.  A further hearing is due to be held in early November, when she is expected to be awarded additional compensation.  

Comment 

There were government proposals to include caste as a separate protected characteristic but these have been delayed pending public consultation.  However, the practical implication of this judgement for employers is that employees or job applicants are likely to be able to pursue claims under the existing race discrimination law where they have been treated less favourably because of their caste.  

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