London/Jodhpur: In a significant ruling that would facilitate Indian law students from doing their internships in UK legal firms, a tribunal has held that refusal by a firm to even consider applications by non-EEA nationals amounted to “indirect racial discrimination”.
The Employment Appellate Tribunal in its ruling last month said the employers could not justify their policy of not accepting applications for training contracts from non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals under the pretext of the requirement of the work permit.
The ruling came in a case filed by an Indian student Ashokvardhan Purohit, who accused Osborne Clarke Services, a top UK law firm, of discrimination for automatically rejecting his application for solicitor training on account of his nationality.
“This is an appeal from a decision of a Bristol Employment Tribunal chaired by Employment Judge Christensen, who, following a hearing in March 2008 in a reserved judgment delivered on 18 April 2008, dismissed Purohit’s claims for direct race discrimination but made findings of indirect race discrimination on the grounds of nationality.
“Leave for this hearing was given by Justice Elias by order dated 9 July 2008.”
The judgement said it was not disputed that Purohit, being an Indian national, was a member of a racial group identified as a non-EEA national and was therefore entitled to bring a claim for discrimination.
”The Tribunal determined that the requirement or condition applied was that somebody does not require a work permit and that the proportion of non-EEA nationals who could comply with that requirement was smaller than the portion of persons not in that group who could comply with it.
The Tribunal determined that the employers could not justify that requirement or condition and it is the issue of justification which is the subject of this appeal.“
Purohit, after obtaining his masters degree in Banking and Finance from the UK, applied for a trainee solicitor contract in June 2007 to Osborne Clarke Services (OCS).But the company rejected his application citing its policy that applications from outside EEA required work permit.
Purohit told PTI the judgement has opened a new gate for non-EEA nationals seeking employment in the UK, on merit.
“In the year in which Purohit applied, Osborne Clarke received 290 applications. Those applications were sifted down to 56 candidates who were sent to an assessment centre; and eventually 26 were offered training contracts; the overall cost of this process being £87,000,” the ruling said.
“OC gave evidence that they had never applied for a work permit for a trainee solicitor but when running recruitment competitions for qualified solicitors, which involved far fewer numbers,” the ruling said.
“They had made applications and indeed employed solicitors who had been granted work permits, the Tribunal noting that OC had not provided any evidence of any difficulty encountered by them with the Border and Immigration Authority in terms of that process,” the ruling said.
The respondents referred the Tribunal to the BIA Guidance for Employers in connection with work permits. That guidance uses the term “resident worker” referring to EEA nationals.
“This case is going to help a lot of my fellow Indian nationals and other non-European Economic Area nationals to apply for the jobs in the UK and get their selection based on merit,” Purohit, who himself argued his case before the Tribunal told PTI.
“This is not limited to legal sector. It is applicable to each and every sector of employment as the issue of work permit is required for taking up employment in any sector within the UK for a non-EEA National,” he said.