Nearly 50 civil servants who said the Home Office discriminated against them because of their age and ethnicity have won a share of more than £1m after a seven-year legal battle.
The 49 staff launched legal action against the Home Office after being told in 2012 and 2013 that they had to take a Core Skills Assessment to be considered for a promotion. All of the claimants failed the assessment, which unions have said is discriminatory.
The Home Office agreed to the settlement halfway through the employment tribunal case, without admitting liability.
The employees, who were supported by the PCS trade union throughout the proceedings, moved to sue the Home Office after a Supreme Court judgement in April 2017 meant they did not have to show why they failed the assessment to seek compensation. The court also ruled the employees did not have to prove they were disadvantaged by the assessment.
The department’s own report into the assessments, sent to the lawyers representing the claimants and the PCS and Prospect trade unions before the tribunal hearing, showed success rates for black and minority ethnic staff and over-35s were lower than that of other staff. The pass rate for BAME employees was just 40.3% of that of white staff, it found.
The latest case was settled seven years after the Prospect trade union won an employment tribunal claim against the Home Office on behalf of technical specialist Graham Dean, who failed a CSA four times despite being praised by his managers. The tribunal ruled that Dean had been subjected to unlawful indirect discrimination on grounds of race and age.
The CSA was changed after the Dean case, but the change did not affect staff who had already taken the test at that point.
Sue Ferns, senior deputy general secretary at Prospect, said it was “shocking” that the Home Office had used public funding to fight the case against its 49 employees, despite losing the 2012 tribunal.
She said the case demonstrated why it was important for workers to be part of a trade union “to make sure they can fight and win cases of discrimination at work”.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka meanwhile said he hoped the settlement would “serve as a lesson to ministers that where the union believes that members are being discriminated against, PCS will support them all the way”.
“The Home Office’s failure to cooperate until the very end caused an avoidable and costly legal battle – wasting time and taxpayer’s money.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office is committed to providing fair and equal opportunity for all of its employees.”