Published: 14 February, 2013
by TOM FOOT
A LONG-standing council employee has won an undisclosed payout from the Town Hall after an employment tribunal upheld claims that managers routinely hired staff based on the colour of their skin.
Council chiefs said last night the case of Fraser Valdez was “obviously worrying” and promised to review hiring practices.
Tribunal judge Anthony Snelson released his damning judgment on Friday following a hearing into a claim of direct race discrimination held over seven days at Victory House in Holborn in November.
He said evidence from a “whistleblower” had exposed a “remarkable racial divide” at the heart of the Town Hall.
Mr Valdez, who is mixed race, was supported by lawyers paid for by the GMB union. They argued that he was treated less favourably on grounds of his race after he was asked to apply for a job following a reorganisation of the culture and environment department.
The 31-year-old was the outright winner in the contest for a senior role, but his managers awarded the job to a white colleague who had scored less than him.
The judgment said there was compelling evidence that the department had been “segregated” on racial lines.
A panel of “uniformly white decision-makers” had hired “uniformly white” candidates for one team. It added that a “family tree of the directorate showed 31 senior managers of whom only one is, conspicuously, a member of an ethnic minority group”.
Mr Snelson said council evidence countering Mr Valdez’s claim of direct racial discrimination was “flawed, contradictory and false”.
He ruled that the Town Hall had broken the European Human Rights Court Code of Practice on Employment (2011).
In conclusion, Mr Snelson said: “We have been troubled by the way the respondents managed the reorganisation and the selection exercises. We sincerely hope the parties will work hard to settle what is left in this dispute.”
Mr Valdez had worked for Camden Council for 15 years and was consistently a high achiever, according to the GMB. Senior organiser Tony Warr said: “Mr Valdez’s foresight in being a GMB member enabled the case to be brought and won. Anyone who does not have the protection of being a GMB member is unlikely to afford a lengthy legal case even where they know they are in the right.”
Mr Valdez’s solicitor, Chris MacNaughton, said: “This is an important case and a striking reminder that racial discrimination is unfortunately still present, not only in the modern day but amidst a modern employer.
“Direct discrimination is rarely blatant. The advantage my client had was that a whistleblower was able to help tip the balance by revealing striking documents that supported racial bias having an influence over a supposedly transparent restructure exercise.”
Speaking after the seven-day hearing, Mr Valdez said: “I always suspected that foul play occurred during the recruitment and selection process. All I wanted was equality of opportunity during the process, free from any racial prejudice.”
Councillor Theo Blackwell, Cabinet member for finance and human resources, said: “The results of this tribunal are obviously worrying. I have asked the chief executive to urgently review the case and to take any necessary action to address the findings of the tribunal.
“Camden has a sound track record of delivering organisational change and has always strived to be a leader in tackling discrimination. I want to assure residents and staff that the tribunal findings are highly unusual. I hope that by taking appropriate action we can demonstrate our continued commitment to being an excellent employer.”