In 2019, discrimination is rarely overt or deliberate.  As a society we have come a long way from the ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’ signs of decades past.  But conscious intent is not necessary for unlawful discrimination to occur.  We all have unconscious biases based on stereotypes and prejudices.  We may not always realise our biases, but we do need to be aware that biases related to protected characteristics such as age, sex and gender can give rise to unlawful treatment.

In the UK, under the Equality Act 2010, direct discrimination occurs where “because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others”.  In a discrimination claim, it falls to the Tribunal to consider the reason why the claimant was treated less favourably.  In other words, what was the conscious or subconscious reason for the treatment?  This requires the Tribunal to undertake an enquiry into the mental processes of the alleged discriminator.

As a reminder, the burden of proof lies initially with the claimant, and then shifts to the employer where the claimant shows a ‘prima facie’ case of discrimination.  If the claimant can establish a sufficient difference in treatment then there is likely to be a prima facie case of discrimination.  The alleged discriminator will then need to show a cogent reason for its actions.  Where there is no overt evidence of discrimination, the Employment Tribunal is entitled to draw inferences from the surrounding facts in order to conclude that unlawful