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Igen v Wong

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Last updated 31st July 2005 (part update 17th September 2012).

Court of Appeal, 2005. Full judgment: bailii.org.

In Barton v Investec Securities Ltd the EAT had given guidance on how to apply the provision in the various discriminaton Acts stating that at a certain point the burden of proof shifts to the employer. (The relevant provision in Equality Act 2010 is EqA s.136.) In Igen v Wong the Court of Appeal restated those guidelines subject to amendments The Court of Appeal warned that the guidance is only that and is not a substitute for the statutory language. The guidance is stated in terms of sex discrimination but seems to apply equally to disability. The guidance is as follows:

  1. Pursuant to section 63A of the SDA, it is for the claimant who complains of sex discrimination to prove on the balance of probabilities facts from which the tribunal could conclude, in the absence of an adequate explanation, that the respondent has committed an act of discrimination against the claimant which is unlawful by virtue of Part II or which by virtue of s. 41 or s. 42 of the SDA is to be treated as having been committed against the claimant. These are referred to below as “such facts”.
  2. If the claimant does not prove such facts he or she will fail.
  3. It is important to bear in mind in deciding whether the claimant has proved such facts that it is unusual to find direct evidence of sex discrimination. Few employers would be prepared to admit such discrimination, even to themselves. In some cases the discrimination will not be an intention but merely based on the assumption that “he or she would not have fitted in”.
  4. In deciding whether the claimant has proved such facts, it is important to remember that the outcome at this stage of the analysis by the tribunal will therefore usually depend on what inferences it is proper to draw from the primary facts found by the tribunal.
  5. It is important to note the word “could” in s. 63A(2). At this stage the tribunal does not have to reach a definitive determination that such facts would lead it to the conclusion that there was an act of unlawful discrimination. At this stage a tribunal is looking at the primary facts before it to see what inferences of secondary fact could be drawn from them.
  6. In considering what inferences or conclusions can be drawn from the primary facts, the tribunal must assume that there is no adequate explanation for those facts.
  7. These inferences can include, in appropriate cases, any inferences that it is just and equitable to draw in accordance with section 74(2)(b) of the SDA from an evasive or equivocal reply to a questionnaire or any other questions that fall within section 74(2) of the SDA.
  8. Likewise, the tribunal must decide whether any provision of any relevant code of practice is relevant and if so, take it into account in determining, such facts pursuant to section 56A(10) of the SDA. This means that inferences may also be drawn from any failure to comply with any relevant code of practice.
  9. Where the claimant has proved facts from which conclusions could be drawn that the respondent has treated the claimant less favourably on the ground of sex, then the burden of proof moves to the respondent. (
  10. It is then for the respondent to prove that he did not commit, or as the case may be, is not to be treated as having committed, that act.
  11. To discharge that burden it is necessary for the respondent to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that the treatment was in no sense whatsoever on the grounds of sex, since “no discrimination whatsoever” is compatible with the Burden of Proof Directive. (Note by me: For disability the Court seems to base this “no discrimination whatsoever” principle on Article 2(1) of the Framework Employment Equality Directive).
  12. That requires a tribunal to assess not merely whether the respondent has proved an explanation for the facts from which such inferences can be drawn, but further that it is adequate to discharge the burden of proof on the balance of probabilities that sex was not a ground for the treatment in question.
  13. Since the facts necessary to prove an explanation would normally be in the possession of the respondent, a tribunal would normally expect cogent evidence to discharge that burden of proof. In particular, the tribunal will need to examine carefully explanations for failure to deal with the questionnaire procedure and/or code of practice.
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