Record payout for victims of discrimination 'a wake-up call to employers'

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The Independent Online

A record amount of compensation to victims of discrimination in 2000 should send a "wake-up call" to employers who pay insufficient attention to equal opportunity laws, it will be claimed today.

A record amount of compensation to victims of discrimination in 2000 should send a "wake-up call" to employers who pay insufficient attention to equal opportunity laws, it will be claimed today.

New figures published this morning show that the annual payout reached £3.53m in 2000,a 38 per cent rise on 1999.

Six-figure sums are no longer uncommon, with the latest figures including a record payment in a race discrimination case of £100,000 for injury to feelings alone. And experts warned that the amounts would rise over the next few years because discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, age and sexual orientation had also recently been outlawed.

The research, by the Equal Opportunities Review (EOR), was based on 318 tribunals at which compensation was awarded in 2000. Sue Johnstone, the editor of the EOR's website, said the figures were "a wake-up call" to employers. "Not paying proper attention to equal opportunities in the workplace is costing organisations a massive amount of money, almost £4m in 2000," she said.

But it was easy to avoid such losses because forward-thinking employers had proved that good equal-opportunities policies and practice were a cost-effective way of getting the best out of staff, she said. "This makes sound commercial sense for its own sake and has got to be of benefit to every business," she said. "Employers must act now to reap the financial rewards of good business practice and to avoid damaging and costly discrimination claims in the future."

The survey revealed a rise in the average level of award in race and disability cases, but a slight dip in payouts in sex discrimination cases.

Sex discrimination was the complaint dealt with by 186 tribunals – nearly 60 per cent of the total – with 75 concerning racial bias and 47 disability. Five involved cases of race and sex discrimination and two cases combined disability and race discrimination.

Almost 50 per cent of the £3.53m was granted to victims of sex cases, 34 per cent for race discrimination and most of the rest for disability cases.

The average award for race discrimination was £15,000, for disability cases £13,000, for sex discrimination £11,000 and for unfair dismissal £5,000. At £1.53m, compensation awarded for injury to feeling made up 43 per cent of the total awards.

The largest award went to Gurpal Virdi, 42, who was sacked by the Metropolitan Police after he was accused of sending racist mail to colleagues at Ealing police station in west London. The Sikh officer was awarded £150,000 – including £100,000 for injury to feelings – when a tribunal ruled he was innocent and had been subjected to racial discrimination. Scotland Yard then agreed a further out-of-court settlement of £200,000 before a second tribunal was due to hear his claim for unfair dismissal.

Almost £1m more was paid out in 2000 compared with 1999. In 2001 the Employment Tribunal Services revealed that applications had increased by 60 per cent in the previous three years.

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