Landmark ruling for race relations over BNP dismissal

An employer did not act unlawfully when it dismissed a BNP councillor, the Court of Appeal ruled today. The decision was described as "an important decision for the future of race relations law in this country."

Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, advised Serco, an international service company, on its successful appeal against a decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the logical conclusion of which appeared to be that an employer dismissing an employee for racially abusing another employee would itself be guilty of race discrimination.

In a decision which will be received with relief by employment lawyers and anyone promoting race relations, Lord Justice Mummery, delivering the verdict of the Court, said: "I am confident that this is not the kind of case for which the anti-discrimination legislation was designed."

The claimant, Arthur Redfearn, worked for a Serco subsidiary which transports children and adults with physical and mental disabilities in the Bradford area. Following his election as a BNP councillor in June 2004, Serco responded to widespread concerns and concluded that his public association with the BNP posed a health & safety risk to users of the service, employees and to Mr Redfearn himself. His employment was terminated as a consequence.

Councillor Redfearn claimed that the decision to dismiss him amounted to discrimination "on racial grounds" and therefore breached the Race Relations Act 1976.

He lost in the Leeds Employment Tribunal but then came the EAT decision. This controversial and worrying decision received widespread criticism from, amongst others, the Commission for Racial Equality and the TUC, as it appeared to be completely at odds with the purpose of the Race Relations Act.

As the Court of Appeal put it in overturning the EAT decision, "any other result would be incompatible with the purpose of the 1976 Act to promote equal treatment of persons irrespective of race."

Michael Ryley, an employment partner with Pinsent Masons, said: "This is an important decision for the future of race relations law in this country. There was widespread concern that, if Serco had not successfully appealed the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the efforts of those seeking to promote best practice in tackling racial discrimination in the workplace would have been seriously undermined. The decision of the Court of Appeal will be warmly welcomed."