Following a number of conflicting Tribunal decisions, the EAT’s recent ruling in the long-running case of Tirkey -v- Chandok and another has provided some (albeit not complete) clarity on the question of whether a person’s caste qualifies as a protected characteristic for the purposes of protection from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
To recap: Ms Tirkey, who was in domestic service with Mr and Mrs Chandok, brought a Tribunal claim alleging that she had been mistreated by the Chandoks (by way of poor living conditions and massive underpayment of wages) for reasons including her caste, which she alleged had led the Chandoks to view her as being of lower status to them. The original Tribunal found in Ms Tirkey’s favour on this ground (as well as others), and the potential implications of that decision were covered in some detail by Anna Gregory in her February 2014. However, the Chandoks appealed, arguing that this aspect of her claim should be struck out because caste was not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
The EAT disagreed and upheld the Tribunal’s decision. In doing so, it set out its view that, whilst caste is not yet a freestanding protected characteristic, elements of a person’s caste identity effectively will constitute part of their ethnic origin where that caste is determined by descent or an identifiable ethnic identity. In such circumstances, discrimination on the grounds of caste will be unlawful as an extension of the protection from discrimination on the grounds of race/ethnic identity.
As is too often the case, and even though the principle which was clarified is of some use, I must add the caveat that the finding was very much particular to the facts of the case. In any event, the government (which is shortly due to conclude its public consultation on this issue) has made clear its intention to exercise its powers in this respect under the Equality Act and to specify caste as a protected characteristic.