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Discrimination on Grounds of Caste Now Unlawful?

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An Employment Tribunal has recently allowed a claim for caste discrimination to proceed to a full trial  on the basis that the definition of “race” in the Equality Act 2010 is wide enough to cover caste.  Caste is not currently one of the “protected characteristics” in the above legislation ,  which deals with discrimination on grounds of sex, race, disability, age and various other so called protected characteristics.  Therefore caste discrimination is not expressly prohibited.  The caste system is a traditional social stratification prevalent in South East Asia which encompasses various classes each associated with a traditional occupation and ranked accordingly on a perceived scale of ritual purity.

hlw Keeble Hawson LLPOther changes in the law which came into force last year  require   the Government to amend discrimination  law to include caste as it is an aspect of race.  This law is expected to be brought into force by next Summer.  However the Employment Tribunal in the case of Tirkey v Chandok has allowed Mrs Tirkey’s caste discrimination complaint to proceed to a full hearing.  She was employed by Mr and Mrs Chandok as a live-in domestic servant originally in India but later in the UK.  She alleged that she was required to work 7 days per week and was not allowed to sit on the same furniture as the family and was made to use separate crockery and cutlery.  She was also required to sleep on the floor and during her 4½ years employment claimed that she was grossly underpaid and given only one day’s holiday.

Her claim in the Tribunal included various complaints of unfair dismissal, race discrimination, unpaid wages and she also claimed caste discrimination as part of her claim for race discrimination.  It was this aspect which was the subject of a preliminary hearing but she has now been allowed to proceed to a full hearing which will hear all of the evidence. 

It will therefore be interesting to see whether this decision will lead to further claims from those whose status, and therefore their treatment at work, has been defined by their inherited place in the caste system.  A further development could even perceivably include discrimination claims brought on grounds of class. 

For further information on this or any other aspect of employment law please contact Paul Grindley on 0113 399 3424 or another member of the employment team.

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