Anya v Oxford University 2001 IRLR 377

The extent to Dr Anya was a black academic employed by Oxford University. Dr Roberts was one of a panel of three interviewing for a vacant academic post. Dr Anya had been shortlisted together with another academic, who was white. The other white candidate was successful.

Dr Anya led evidence to the Tribunal of various facts which he argued enabled the Tribunal to draw an inference of discrimination. He pointed to the serious shortcomings in the recruitment process. In addition, Dr Roberts had expressed his reservations about Dr Anya to one of the other members of the interviewing panel prior to the interview, and had in the past been obstructive towards Dr Anya's career when they had worked together.

The Tribunal made no findings of fact regarding this evidence. Instead, they moved straight to a finding that Dr Roberts' evidence as to why he had found Dr Anya a less convincing candidate (expressed in entirely acceptable terms relating to his scientific ability) was credible and truthful. Without more ado, the Tribunal concluded that Dr Robert's evidence was accepted, and therefore the explanation for Dr Anya's lack of success at interview was not connected with his race. His case failed.

The Court of Appeal reiterates the point that direct race discrimination will often be established by the drawing of inferences from facts. Those facts may well be background facts, and they may predate or postdate the acts which are the subject of the Tribunal claim. It is unlikely that the specific facts which constitute the substance of the Tribunal complaint will in themselves be sufficient to enable a Tribunal to draw a conclusion of discrimination.

It is likely to be the background facts which will enable the inference to be drawn. Therefore in focussing solely on the explanation given by Dr Roberts as to why he preferred the white candidate rather than Dr Anya, and finding that explanation truthful, the Tribunal had in effect ignored the background facts. They had therefore ignored precisely those background facts which would normally enable a Tribunal to draw an inference of discrimination.

This case is a useful reminder of how essential it is for Applicants to provide Tribunals with a detailed account of all the evidence that might enable the Tribunal to draw an inference of discrimination. That evidence is unlikely to be limited to just the act which triggered the Tribunal application and is likely to go well beyond that. In a case where the Applicant has worked for the Respondent for some time, the evidence may well stretch back over a number of years.  

The case is also a reminder of how there may well be unlawful discrimination in spite of an apparently plausible explanation from a respondent. Extensive investigation of all the facts may be necessary to enable the Tribunal to draw the appropriate inference of unlawful discrimination.