A graduate has told an employment tribunal that he was discriminated against by Virgin Atlantic because of his African name.
Max Kpakio, 36, who moved to Wales to escape civil war in Liberia, had intended to pursue Sir Richard Branson’s airline for £55,000 for race discrimination at an employment tribunal in Cardiff. But at the hearing yesterday he said he did not want a penny from Virgin and claimed he was acting out of principle.
The refugee, who was born in Liberia and moved to Britain 10 years ago and has since earned a degree in International Relations at Swansea University, claimed his application to work at one of the company’s call centres was rejected at the first stage when submitted with his real name.
Kpakio said he changed his name to Craig Owen and sent in a less detailed CV in which he simplified his work experience and made several intentional spelling mistakes, and was immediately offered an interview.
Representatives for Richard Branson’s travel company strongly denied Kpakio’s claims, insisting it was an equal opportunities employer.
Senior staff said the two CVs were significantly different and Mr Owen's application showed better experience than Mr Kpakio's.
Representing the company, Alexander Robson said the case should never have reached the tribunal process.
He said: “There is plainly a sufficient difference between the two CVs.
”It would have been a very different case had there been no differences other than just the names. The CVs are miles apart - it's not even a fair comparison.“
Kpakio, who has been granted citizenship in the UK, previously said: “There was a huge difference in the way I was treated when I used a British name.
“When I was first sent a rejection, I couldn’t understand it. I thought I had provided a very good CV. I had offered advice to clients over the telephone before, so I believed I was a very good candidate for the job.”
Once he reapplied as Craig Owen, Kpakio claimed the company’s attitude changed: “They were in touch with me seven or eight times, and kept coming back to me when I didn’t respond.”
Kpakio was told by Judge Sharp: ”This tribunal does not have the power to order Virgin Atlantic to give you a job or to apologise to you.
“All we could do if we found in your favour was to award compensation and recommend that Virgin Atlantic changes its practices so the same thing could not happen again.”
Virgin Atlantic denies the charge, and the case continues.
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