EHRC | UK equality watchdog won't let staff say 'institutional racism', tribunal hears

UK equality watchdog won't let staff say 'institutional racism', tribunal hears

A former employee at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is alleging racial discrimination and unfair dismissal, after the watchdog body criticised its staff for speaking up about race.

In this unusual case, Preeti Kathrecha, a former senior associate, is suing the public body, saying she was “punished and silenced” for speaking up about racism and for using the term “institutional racism”.

In the tribunal’s statement, Kathrecha explained: “The commission, which was supposed to be independent and impartial on race and other forms of discrimination, was politicised on some areas, such as race (and, more recently, the trans debate).

“By politicised I mean that the board increasingly acted as an agent of the Conservative government and against parties or organisations which the government were opposed to, or were in conflict with, rather than impartially and independently, and in accordance with its statutory duties … It is being used as a political weapon in a cultural race war.”

As a result, she is claiming constructive dismissal and saying that working at the organisation left her “psychologically exhausted”, as her claims of institutional racism in EHRC reports of the NHS, social care, higher education, the Met police, the pandemic, the Home Office’s environmental policy, and the Windrush scandal were all ignored.

Kathrecha highlighted in the witness statement that there was little regard for those in the BAME community after the killing of George Floyd and pointed to a survey from 2021 where 22% of staff at EHRC said the organisation promoted diversity and equality and 6% felt the body upheld commission values and ethics.

She continued: “Whereas the respondent felt empathy, compassion and provided support for its female staff (mostly white) after the [Sarah] Everard tragedy, it entirely ignored the welfare of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) staff after the George Floyd racist incident…

“The JCHR (joint committee on human rights) response and those of every other anti-racism organisation and even most corporates and Premier football clubs were far more committed and insightful than the stony silence we faced at the respondent.”

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Kathrecha has also said the organisation lacks BAME people in senior positions, saying the organisation wouldn’t set targets as it didn’t want criticism for not reaching them, and claims she was asked to sign off the inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour party because they wanted a BAME employee to sign it off.

The EHRC, however, denies all race discrimination and harassment claims, saying she was not dismissed but resigned from her position for another job. The tribunal goes on.

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