Liberian man who claimed he wasn't offered a job by Virgin Atlantic because of his African name loses race bias claim


Benjamin Wright
Friday 19 April 2013 18:27 BST
Max Kpakio, 36, has told an employment tribunal that he was discriminated against by Virgin Atlantic because of his name.
Max Kpakio, 36, has told an employment tribunal that he was discriminated against by Virgin Atlantic because of his name.

A job hunter who accused Virgin Atlantic of racial discrimination has lost his case.

Max Kpakio claimed he was rejected for an interview with the airline's call centre because of his African surname - but said he was accepted when he re-applied under the more British sounding name Craig Owen.

Virgin had denied the accusations from the offset - and insisted it was an equal opportunities employer.

A tribunal in Cardiff has now found that race played no part in the matter - and said Mr Kpakio's two applications had been markedly different.

In a written statement, Judge Claire Sharp said: "The tribunal wishes to be absolutely clear, the claimant did not merely change the names and ethnicity in the two applications - they were different applications.

"The false application was clearly designed to meet the respondent's criteria for the role."

Mr Kpakio was born in Liberia but moved to Swansea with his family in 2002 to escape civil war.

He has since been granted British citizenship, and has earned a degree in International Relations at Swansea University.

But after finding himself out of work, he went to a staff recruitment presentation with Virgin Atlantic's call centre in Swansea.

He told an employment tribunal that he felt confident about his chances because of his previous experience as the chairman of a charity.

However, when his application was turned down he decided to re-apply under the false name of Craig Owen - in the hope that a more British moniker would get him the job.

As well as changing the name on his second application, he said he simplified his work experience.

He said that, not only did the firm offer "Mr Owen" an interview, but it also repeatedly chased him for one after he failed to respond to its invitation.

The father-of-three later took the matter to an employment tribunal, initially seeking £55,000 in damages for loss of earnings as well as injury to feelings.

But during the hearing he changed his demands - and instead said he did not want a penny from the airline firm, only an apology.

However, Virgin contested his claims that the reason it had turned down Mr Kpakio and accepted "Mr Owen" was because of his ethnicity.

It pointed to information on the latter CV, which was missing from the first, which made "Mr Owen" a more suitable candidate. These included being the boss of a local football team and the ability to use live chat in IT.

Representing the company, Alexander Robson said the case was one that should never have reached the tribunal process in the first place.

He said: "It would have been a very different case had there been no differences other than just the names.

"But the CVs are miles apart - it's not even a fair comparison."

Mr Kpakio said he felt "disappointed" by the tribunal's decision.


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