Almost 50 civil servants who were discriminated against due to their age or ethnicity by the Home Office have together secured more than £1 million in compensation following a tribunal hearing.

Between late 2012 and early 2013 the 49 claimants were asked, if they wanted to be considered for promotion to the roles of higher executive officer and Grade 7, to undertake a Core Skills Assessment (CSA), which they then all failed. CSA’s have long been criticised by the unions that support Home Office staff, pointing out that success rates for black or minority ethnic (BME) workers, or those older than 35, have been significantly lower than that of other employees.

The employees turned to their unions - PCS and Prospect - for advice, and they sought legal opinion from discrimination experts Thompsons Solicitors.  In Thompsons’ opinion, the CSA was discriminatory due to its disproportionate adverse effect, which acted as a bar to BME and older candidates achieving promotion.

Tribunal claims were initiated against the Home Office, who then argued throughout that the CSA was a necessary standard-bearer, that it offered a fair application process for candidates, and the procedure being ‘systematic and transparent’ maintained public confidence in the service.

"This has been a long, hard fought battle where the union support, hard work of the barrister at Garden Court Chambers, Nicola Braganza, and the resilience of the claimants has been extraordinary."

Kate Lea
Employment rights lawyer

However, the PCS, Prospect and Thompsons Solicitors pointed out that the CSA was not used in other government agencies, and that candidates had to provide a number of documents prior to the test that validated their claims for promotion. It was argued that, in many cases, the claimants were already performing the roles they were applying for. Ultimately, the unions and Thompsons argued that the CSA was nothing more than an extra hurdle used to sift out BME and older workers. They also argued that public confidence could not be cited by the Home Office considering the significantly lower success rate statistics the test resulted in.

The Home Office disputed these claims until the day before the tribunal hearing, when it supplied a series of internal reports to Thompsons and the unions, which agreed that the CSA unjustifiably treated BME and older workers unfairly.

The Home Office then agreed part way through the hearing to settle the claims, without admission of liability, and to pay the claimants compensation – totalling more than £1 million.

Kate Lea, the executive at Thompsons Solicitors who acted for the applicants, said: “This has been a long, hard fought battle where the union support, hard work of the barrister at Garden Court Chambers, Nicola Braganza, and the resilience of the claimants has been extraordinary.

“While the settlement represents a fantastic result for each claimant and the union, it is disappointing that the Home Office has not offered an apology for continuing to operate discriminatory systems, which was internally acknowledged as being incapable of justification. It defies belief that the Home Office knew of the internal findings yet decided to only disclose them the day before the tribunal hearing. The Home Office’s failure to cooperate until the very end caused an avoidable and costly legal battle – wasting time and taxpayer’s money.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: “This is an important win for the union and by securing over £1m in compensation from the Home Office, it will hopefully serve as a lesson to ministers that where the union believes that members are being discriminated against, PCS will support them all the way.”

In late 2012 – prior to the initial complaints from the employees – Prospect had won an employment tribunal claim against the Home Office for technical specialist Graham Dean. Graham had failed a CSA test four times despite commendations from his managers. The tribunal ruled that he had been subjected to unlawful indirect discrimination on grounds of race and age, and Graham later secured promotion without needing to complete the CSA, leading to a change in the CSA. However, the change wasn’t applied to other staff who had been previously affected by the test.

Sue Ferns, senior deputy general secretary at Prospect, said: “The Home Office lost the original Prospect case for Graham Dean in 2012, but rather than recognise the strengths of the legal arguments against them they fought on for seven years. It is shocking that they continued to use taxpayers’ money to fight this case so vigorously.

“We are very pleased that at last our member has been able to get the justice they deserved. This case again demonstrates how workers need to be members of a union like Prospect to make sure they can fight and win cases of discrimination at work.”