Since 2006, Banco Santander UK has been, and still appears to be, paying the price for unlawfully discriminating against one of its employees.
Santander UK is the high-street bank formerly known as Abbey National. Abbey National was bought out by Banco Santander in 2004 and re-named as Santander UK in January 2010. Formula 1 racing driver Lewis Hamilton and the Banco Santander chief Emilio Botin unveiled the Santander UK name together in London.
In 2006, Santander UK (then known as Abbey National) dismissed Balbinder Chagger (of Indian origin) from employment. Santander UK claimed the dismissal was the result of a fairly conducted redundancy exercise. Balbinder Chagger alleged that unfairness and race discrimination were the actual reasons behind his dismissal.
A London Employment Tribunal investigated the dispute and found that Santander UK had, in fact, treated Mr Chagger unfairly and had unlawfully racially discriminated against him.
The Employment Tribunal ordered Santander UK to reinstate Mr Chagger in order to remedy the effects of its unlawful conduct. But Santander UK refused to comply with the Tribunal's order for reasons that the Tribunal found as unsatisfactory.
The Employment Tribunal found that Santander UK's conduct had cost Mr Chagger not only his job at Santander UK, but also his future career in the banking sector. The Tribunal proceeded to order Santander UK to pay Mr Chagger the record-breaking £2.8 million to compensate him for the loss it had caused him.
The £2.8 million compensation Santander UK was ordered to pay dwarfed the previous record compensation of £1.4 million the bank Schroders had been ordered to pay to its employee Julie Bower for sexually discriminating against her in 2002.
After being tied up for years in legal appeals to higher-level courts (appeals which turned out to be of historic legal importance and high-profile) Santander UK appears to have conceded that it had treated Mr Chagger unfairly and had racially discriminated against him.
Santander UK now appears merely to be pursuing legalities in order to reduce the £2.8 million amount of loss the Employment Tribunal assessed it had caused Mr Chagger (despite having caused him to lose his job and his future career).
Institutional values and behaviours have become prominent topics in society. Institutions are expected to behave ethically, and to be seen to be behaving ethically. Institutions tend to settle potentially embarrassing employment disputes in private, thereby preventing them ever reaching the public domain. Santander UK's decision to have allowed the dispute to escalate to an open public forum is astonishing given, amongst other things, the risk involved to its reputation.