We’re barely into 2020 and we seem to be on something of a roll with stories about sex discrimination. Yesterday, I discussed the issue of equal pay.
Only this morning I was flicking through the newspaper and came across another story, this time, concerning pregnancy discrimination.
Helen Larkin was dismissed from her post with the Liz Earle Beauty Company on the grounds of her pregnancy. Her employer was restructuring the company and refused to consider Ms Larkin for two alternative posts within the organisation. This refusal to consider suitable, alternative employment appeared to be motivated by the fact that Ms Larkin would shortly be going off on her period of maternity leave.
This treatment amounted to unlawful direct discrimination in terms of Sections 13 and 18 of the Equality Act 2010. Her dismissal would also be automatically unfair in terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Consequently, Ms Larkin was awarded over £17,000 in compensation. This sum, of course, reflects an element to injury to feelings (the so called Vento Bands or Guidelines).
A study carried out jointly by the UK Government Department (Business, Innovation and Skills) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission previously discovered that some 54,000 women per year in this country were forced out of their employment for reasons related to pregnancy and/or maternity.
A link to a summary of the research on the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission can be found below:
Again, as I noted in yesterday’s Blog (New Year, same old story …), we have had anti-discrimination laws in the UK for nearly 45 years and yet we still regularly hear stories about pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Readers might be interested to learn about the work of a pressure group (Pregnant then screwed) whichcampaigns to end the ‘motherhood penalty’:
It’s becoming depressingly predictable: the persistence of the gender pay gay in the United Kingdom.
This time last year, I was discussing with my students the struggle that City of Glasgow Council female employees were undertaking to win their claims for equal pay. After a period of industrial action, the women finally won their struggle:
We’ve just entered 2020 and it seems as if nothing much has changed in the wider world (more on this later).
Theoretically, the gender pay gap should be a thing of the past. We have had legislation in place for nearly 45 years in this country: the Equal Pay Act 1970 (which came into force in December 1975) and the current Equality Act 2010.
An info graphic which shows the number of Employment Tribunal cases in the UK involving equal pay claims (2008-2019) can be seen below:
True, the above figures show the number of equal pay claims in overall decline – effectively being halved (from a high of over 60,000 in 2008 to just over 30,000 in 2019); but my riposte to that would to say still too many.
In today’s edition of The Independent, new research, carried out by the Institute of Public Policy Research, indicates that female General Practitioners (physicians for our overseas readers) are paid up to £40,000 less than their male colleagues every year.
For each £1 that a male colleague earns, a woman earns 35 pence less. To reinforce this point, the article states that female GPs are effectively providing their services free of charge between September and December every year.
In language of the Equality Act 2010, the female GPs are carrying out ‘like work’ when comparing themselves to their male colleagues. There seems to be absolutely no lawful justification for this disparity in pay between the sexes.
A link to the article in The Independent can be found below:
The equal pay laws imply a sex or gender equality clause into every person’s contract of employment. Employers therefore have a legal duty to ensure gender equality in relation to terms and conditions of service.
It seems pretty simple, so why isn’t it happening in 2020?
An explanation for this situation in the medical profession has centred around the development of a ‘two tier’ system whereby more men are partners in GP surgeries whereas a large number of women take on the role of a salaried GP. Women tend to become salaried GPs because they feel that this allows them to work flexibly around their family commitments. So, again, what we appear to be seeing is women being penalised because they are trying to balance work and family (the so called ‘motherhood’ penalty).
Also on this day …
And purely by coincidence another equal pay story …
… Samira Ahmed, BBC journalist, wins her Employment Tribunal claim for equal pay (see below):
A person’s protected characteristics in terms of the Equality Act 2010 seems to be the theme of the Blog today.
Sexual orientation is a protected characteristic in terms of Sections 4 and 12 of the Act. Most people these days are familiar with the following definitions in terms of an individual’s sexuality: e.g. heterosexual, homosexual (gay/lesbian) and bisexual.
What about a person who declares themselves to be pansexual?
According to Stonewall, the group which campaigns on behalf of the LGBTI community, this term refers to a person ‘whose romantic and/or sexual attraction towards others is not limited by sex or gender.’ Stonewall also makes the point that bisexual individuals can declare themselves to be pansexual.
An interesting story appeared in today’s British media about pansexuality. Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP and possible contender for the leadership of that Party, has declared herself to be pansexual. She is the first Member of the Westminster Parliament to define her sexual orientation in this way. Previously, she would have declared herself as heterosexual.
Andrew Adonis, Labour member of the House of Lords and former UK Government minister tweeted his reaction to the story:
The point that Adonis was trying to make is that it shouldn’t have been a story. As a society, the UK has supposedly become more tolerant and progressive towards people with different sexual orientations.
Ms Moran admitted herself that the decision to be open about her sexual orientation had caused friends and colleagues to worry that this might harm her career – and her aspiration to be the next or future leader of the Liberal Democrats. So much for a more tolerant and progressive society …
Explaining her reason for going public about her sexual orientation, Ms Moran stated that:
“… I feel now is the time to talk about it, because as an MP I spend a lot of my time defending our community [LGBTI] and talking about our community. I want people to know I am part of our community as well.”
A link to the story in Pink News can be found below:
Disability is a protected characteristic in terms of Sections 4 and 6 of the Equality Act 2010. In terms of Sections 20 and 21 of the Act, employers and service providers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of a disabled person.
What about a new prison inmate (a sex offender) who is visually impaired and wishes to bring his assistance (or guide) dog with him?
The prison authorities have said no to this request, it is simply against the rules.
Discrimination or less favourable treatment, of course, can be perfectly legal if it is objectively justified.
It would be very interesting to see if the prison authorities were potentially in breach of the Equality Act (direct or indirect discrimination).
A link to the story on the BBC News App can be found below:
Thanks to @tchickphoto for making this photo available freely on @unsplash 🎁
Scanning through the papers today for news worthy stories, I found myself looking across the sea (the Irish Sea to be precise) and it was there that I stumbled upon an interesting article in The Irish Times.
Regular readers of this Blog will be aware that I have a particular interest in the areas of discrimination and employment law and this story ticked both boxes.
A female supermarket delicatessen worker was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment on an almost daily basis by one of her male co-workers. The dreadful treatment appears to have started less than a month after the woman commenced her employment (May 2018). Her manager (a man) was fully aware of the situation, but did nothing to put an end to her ordeal. In fact, he witnessed one of the brazen attempts by her tormentor and made a joke of it. This joke involved comments about people from Limerick. I have to say as someone who has Limerick ancestry, I felt pretty insulted when reading the manager’s gratuitous comment.
A link to the story in The Irish Times can be found below:
The woman complained about the situation, but she was not informed about the progress of this by her employer. Eventually, the woman felt that she had little choice but to resign from her employment. This could be viewed as the last straw – her employer’s conduct having led to a complete breakdown in their relationship. It might be said that the implied duty of trust and confidence on the part of the employer had been completely shattered.
In the UK, we would, of course, recognise this situation as one of constructive (unfair) dismissal in terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010 (she was being subjected to discrimination/unlawful less favourable treatment on the grounds of her sex).
When the woman’s formal complaint was submitted, her employer did move her male colleague to a different location within the supermarket (the storeroom), but he went absent on sick leave shortly afterwards.
The whole experience was extremely distressing for the woman who has now been awarded €20,000 in compensation.
Again, readers in the UK will make the obvious comparison with our Vento scale (or bands) for compensation for victims of discrimination. The sum awarded to this woman would fall into the middle band in the UK (£8,800 to £26,300).
A link to an article about the current UK Vento scale or bands can be found below:
Anyone with a background in discrimination law who reads the article from The Irish Times about this story will immediately recognise the terminology used. The women alleged that her co-worker’s behaviour “was a violation of dignity in that it created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment for her.”
Such a statement reflects the language of the European Commission’s Code of Practice on Measures to combat sexual harassment. This Code was first formulated as far back as 1991 and has now been largely implemented into the legal systems of EU member states. The Republic of Ireland is, of course for the time being, one of our fellow EU member states and Irish anti-discrimination practitioners will be readily familiar with the terminology. For many years, Employment Tribunals and UK courts routinely used the Commission’s Code of Practice when dealing with cases which involve allegations of sexual harassment.
Current UK law on harassment in the workplace is contained primarily in the Equality Act 2010. More seriously, acts of harassment can also be a criminal offence.
A link to a guidance published by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission concerning sexual harassment in the workplace can be found below:
The Conciliator appointed by Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission, an independent statutory body created by Oireachtas – both Houses of the Irish Parliament, concluded that the woman’s employer had “failed to put appropriate measures in place to stop this harassment and sexual harassment from occurring or to reverse its effects”.
The Conciliator also noted that “the supermarket failed to conclude its investigation and make a decision is the most egregious flaw in the process.” The employer tried to justify this failure by saying that, as a matter of natural justice, it could not conclude the investigation because the male colleague had since left Ireland to return to his country of origin. The Conciliator stayed that the employer made this decision “at the expense of the complainant and closure for her of this appalling experience”.
Employers, please take note: failing to follow basic grievance procedures contained in the employment contract can have serious and expensive consequences. Such a failure on your part can contribute to the breakdown of the relationship with the employee and may very well open the door to claims for constructive dismissal against you.
It never feels to amaze me that by casually flicking through the weekend newspapers and news outlets you can discover stories about discrimination without really making much of an effort. I often say this to my students when I ask them to highlight a media story about an aspect of discrimination law at the beginning of each class. There’s really no excuse for saying that they couldn’t find anything to talk about.
And so it proved today – although I must give credit to my students who had alerted me to this story some weeks ago during one of their regular presentations.
The story concerns Mr and Mrs Mander who have just won their claim for unlawful direct discrimination on the grounds of their race. Race (including national origin and a person’s colour), of course, is one of the protected characteristics which is set out in terms of Sections 4 and 9 of the Equality Act 2010.
Section 13 of the Act contains the definition of direct discrimination.
The Manders are of Sikh and Indian heritage who were both born in the UK and are British citizens. Their parents all came to the UK when they were small children. The couple participate in ceremonies and events throughout the Sikh Holy Year, but otherwise they are not particularly religious.
In this respect, they are very similar to people from a White British or Irish background who attend Church, for example, at Christmas and Easter. The couple are both university educated professionals with senior positions in the IT industry and they are comfortably well off. Culturally, the Manders see themselves as British, but obviously they are rightly aware and proud of their heritage.
After numerous attempts to start a family, the Manders decided to investigate the possibility of adopting a child. For this purpose, the couple dealt with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and Adopt Berkshire. The experience would end in disappointment for the couple.
The Manders took a claim to Oxford County Court alleging direct race discrimination (and alternatively indirect discrimination in terms of Section 19 of the Act of 2010) against the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and Adopt Berkshire (the defendants).
It should also be appreciated that Section 29 of the Equality Act makes it clear that individuals can experience unlawful discrimination in respect of the provision of a service – in this case that of adoption services.
The couple also alleged that they had suffered discrimination in respect of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the following:
Article 8 (the right to family and private life)
Article 12 (the right to marry and found a family)
Article 14 (the prohibition on discrimination)
In the event, at the trial, the Manders decided not to pursue claims in terms of Article 8 and Section 19.
Her Honour Judge Clarke summarised the essence of the Manders’ claim:
‘It is important to understand that Mr and Mrs Mander’s claim is not that they applied to be approved as adopters but were wrongly or unfairly rejected or discriminated against either during the process of consideration of their application for adoption, or when considering whether to match them to a child. Mr and Mrs Mander’s case is that the Defendants discriminated against them on the basis of their race before they made formal application to adopt, inter alia by refusing to progress them to the ROI/application stage.’
The Council and Adopt Berkshire did not at any time advance the argument that the Manders were in any way unsuitable as prospective, adoptive parents.
The justification given for the refusal to permit the Manders to proceed to the Registration of Interest/application stage was that it was unlikely that children from the same cultural background as the couple would become available for adoption in the short or longer term.
The couple were informed by letter from the Service Manager of Adopt Berkshire that:
‘In the last 17 months since Adopt Berkshire we have not had a single child of Indian or Pakistani heritage referred to us for placement …’
The letter went on to state:
‘… it is hard at the current time to advise you how best to proceed regarding adopting within the U.K.; however another option that you may wish to explore is the option of adopting from India – while this is likely to be a lengthy process and may be financially stretching, it may ultimately be more likely to enable you to achieve the placement of a young child whose cultural heritage is similar to your own.’
Eventually, the couple adopted a child from the United States of America, but at a considerable financial cost.
In evidence, the Manders were in no doubt that they had been treated differently by Adopt Berkshire:
‘There was no doubt in my mind that she [Mrs Popat, an employee of Adopt Berkshire] in fact made a judgment based on the colour of our skin. I was never treated like this before. I grew up in this country. My grandfather fought in the British Army – I was hurt and disappointed.’ (Mrs Manders)
‘Adopt Berkshire made me feel that the country where I grew up still saw me as different. It did not matter that I grew up here, as long as I was not white, I could not be British. I found this thought very disturbing – I had trouble sleeping at night because of how angry and helpless I felt.’ (Mr Manders)
Held: by the County Court that the Manders had suffered direct discrimination on the grounds of their race when their application was not progressed to the ROI/application stage of the adoption process.
Her Honour Judge Clarke did not, however, uphold the couple’s claim that their rights under Article 12 of the European Convention had been breached. As her Honour pointed out the right to adopt a child is not covered by the Convention, but rather is left to national law.
Judge Clarke also acknowledged that the discrimination suffered by the Manders was of a very serious nature:
‘I consider this to be a very serious case, which sits at the top of the middle, or bottom of the upper, range of the Vento bands …’
In this respect, the Manders were awarded both ordinary (£29,000) and special damages (£60,000).
The application of the Vento Bands was discussed in a previous Blog, Hurt feelings: