Woman told to be a racist wins case

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A WHITE woman who quit her new job as a vehicle hire receptionist after only two days because she objected to her employers' colour bar against black and Asian customers was a victim of racial discrimination in the workplace, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

Three judges upheld earlier decisions that Veronica Sargent was constructively dismissed on racial grounds and was entitled to pounds 5,000 compensation. They rejected the employer's argument that a white person could not be the victim of a policy that discriminated against other races. Lord Justice Swinton Thomas said that the intention of the Act was to deter racial discrimination.

Lord Justice Pill said that Ms Sargent was placed in "an outrageous and embarrassing position" when she was told the company had a "special policy regarding coloured and Asians".

The Cardiff company Weathersfield Ltd, then trading as Van & Truck Rentals, told Ms Sargent: "We have got to be careful who we hire the vehicles to. If you get a telephone call from any coloured or Asians you can usually tell them by the sound of their voice. You have to tell them there are no vehicles available."

A "stunned" Ms Sargent worked on the desk for two days in April 1996, but was so upset by the policy that she decided she could not continue and walked out.

Yesterday, the Commission for Racial Equality said that the Court of Appeal's ruling in Ms Sargent's favour was an important victory in the battle against discrimination.

A spokesman for the commission, Chris Myant, said: "This will strengthen the hands of those many employees that are not prepared to stand for an employer who expects them to act in a discriminatory way."

Ms Sargent first took her employer to a Cardiff industrial tribunal under the Race Discrimination Act and won. She fought off the company's challenge in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, and won her case again yesterday in the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal judges rejected the employer's argument that discriminatory treatment on racial grounds must relate to the race of the complainant, and not to that of a third party.

Lord Justice Swinton Thomas said: "In my judgement, Mrs Sargent was discriminated against on racial grounds, albeit that the unlawful instruction in relation to race concerned others of a different racial group to her." Lord Justice Beldam agreed.

The company was refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords, although it could still apply directly to the law lords for leave.