Legal jobs agency guilty of race bias

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The Independent Online
The Government Legal Service has been found guilty of breaking the law on race and sex discrimination, and is being forced to make radical changes to recruitment procedures.

The failures of the service - which fills 1,100 solicitors' and barristers' posts in government departments and agencies - emerged after a black woman was rejected for a job at the Treasury.

The London South Industrial Tribunal found that Chineme Nwoke was the victim of a seriously flawed selection system. It decided that a marking procedure was "so subjective as to allow personal prejudices, whether conscious or unconscious, to seep into assessments".

Ms Nwoke, whose case was backed by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), was given such a low grading that under the service's rules she was effectively prevented from applying for such a post again.

The tribunal awarded her pounds 2,000 for injury to feelings and a highly unusual exemplary payment of pounds 1,000 "aggravated damages". The service was also urged to re-interview her if she applied for a future vacancy.

The tribunal judgment said that "alarm bells were set ringing" when the chairman of the appointments board admitted that an element in selection was whether the candidate would "fit in". The tribunal pointed out that during the recruitment process every white candidate with local government experience was marked grade C or above, while no applicant from the ethnic minorities with a similar background achieved such a rating.

Some 2.4 per cent of black or Asian candidates were marked C or above, compared with 7.6 per cent of white men and 11.2 per cent of white women. Half of the black or Asian candidates who were shortlisted were finally appointed, compared with 76.2 per cent of white men and 63 per cent of white women. Despite receiving higher marks, women were less likely to be recommended for a post and if appointed, they were paid less.

The tribunal was "satisfied that the applicant did not do enough to be recommended for appointment, but not satisfied that her appointment was so bad as to warrant exclusion from any future shortlisting."

Ms Nwoke said she was pleased her case had brought about changes. "I sensed that something was wrong from the beginning of the interview. Now nearly three years later, I am gratified that my decision to take up this case may be of help to others."

Herman Ouseley, chairman of the CRE, said the award of aggravated damages was a sign of the tribunal's concern. "Government lawyers must surely be expected to achieve a standard in the provision of equality of opportunity second to none."

t Claude Johnson, a black prison officer who was subjected to a campaign of discrimination lasting 18 months has been awarded record damages of pounds 28,500, it was confirmed yesterday.