Race discrimination may not be intentional, but it can be deeply hurtful and, with the right legal advice, victims can both express their disgust and secure compensation. In a striking case on point, a Sikh couple who were rejected as potential adopters because of their ethnicity were awarded substantial damages.

The high-earning professional couple were born and raised in England and considered themselves culturally British, whilst acknowledging their Indian heritage. After making numerous attempts to conceive by IVF, they realised that they were unlikely to have a child biologically their own and applied to a local authority-run adoption agency to be placed on its list of prospective adopters. They were, however, rejected at an early stage of the selection process.

After they launched legal proceedings, the High Court noted that there was nothing in their background to suggest that they were not suitable people to adopt or that they could not offer a loving and caring home to a child. The agency’s policy to ‘match’ children with adopters from a similar background in reality amounted to the imposition of a criterion based on race.

The stereotypical assumption that lay behind the agency’s policy of seeking an exact, or near-exact, ethnic match gave race a disproportionate importance as a factor regarding the welfare of children. In treating the couple’s race as the key criterion when considering their application, the agency had given overwhelming priority to their ethnicity over other factors which were unanimously in their favour.

The couple were particularly vulnerable, having endured numerous rounds of IVF and a sad early pregnancy loss, and were desperate for a child. Whilst stopping short of finding that the discrimination they suffered was intentional, the Court ruled it a very serious case. They were awarded approximately £120,000 in damages, reflecting the injury to their feelings and the costs arising from the discrimination.


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