The Coronavirus continues to create chaos – legally speaking.
The latest casualty is the Scottish Government’s promised review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. This exercise will now be postponed for the foreseeable future.
On 20 June 2019, the Scottish Government stated that, following a consultation in 2018, it would be bringing forward a Gender Recognition Bill in order to reform the current Gender Recognition Act 2004.
This exercise was always dogged by a lack of clarity on the Government’s part. Shirley-Anne Sommerville MSP, the Government Minister who had responsibility for this issue had publicly admitted that there was still a need to build a “maximum consensus” before things become clearer. Code for sorting out divisions over the issue within the ranks of the Scottish National Party.
A link to information about the proposed Bill can be found below:
In April 2005, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force. This Act, which received the Royal Assent on 1 July 2004, currently provides people who have undergone gender reassignment procedures with legal recognition in relation to their newly acquired gender identity. The legislation applies across the United Kingdom and was passed by the Westminster Parliament.
Legal recognition of a person’s decision to reassign the sex or gender they have had from birth will follow from the issuing of a full gender recognition certificate by a Gender Recognition Panel. The individual applying for such a certificate must be able to satisfy certain criteria – the most important criterion will centre around the submission of medical evidence of physiological changes by the applicant.
Since the introduction of the Act, it has long been the case, therefore, that it will amount be unlawful discrimination to treat a person less favourably because s/he has undergone a a process of gender reassignment. The Equality Act 2010, of course, also bolsters legal protection for transgender people.
The Scottish Government’s proposed Gender Recognition Bill
The proposed Bill was controversial because some Scottish National Party MSPs and MPs (e.g. Joanna Cherry QC, Ash Denham, Kate Forbes and Lindsay Martin) are concerned about its main objective: that an individual who wishes to undergo gender reassignment will no longer have to provide medical evidence to the Gender Recognition Panel. The Panel currently determines the gender or sex of individuals who wish to undergo reassignment by issuing them with a certificate:
Under the Scottish Government’s proposals, an individual could effectively self-identify as a person of the opposite sex without having to undergo invasive medical procedures and provide the evidence of this fact in order to obtain recognition from the Panel.
Under the proposed legislation, an individual wishing to undergo gender reassignment would have to have met the following criteria:
A statutory declaration to the effect that they have decided to change gender or sex;
The declaration will contain a statement that the individual has been living as a man or a woman for at a minimum of 3 months;
The individual will have to undertake a compulsory or mandatory period of 3 months to reflect on the decision to undergo gender reassignment (no gender recognition certificate will be issued until this period has been completed).
Two academics at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Kath Murray and Lucy Hunter Blackburn have also been extremely critical about the Scottish Government’s approach to transgender rights generally.
A link to an article in The Holyrood Magazine discussing the research conducted by the two academics can be found below:
Today is International Women’s Day, but is there much to celebrate in terms of concrete progress since I spoke about this topic last year?
The answer to the question is that progress women’s equality remains very much a mixed picture. If you look at figures produced for the European Gender Equality Institute, the UK is certainly in the top 5 of selected European countries. This is in stark contrast to Central and Eastern European nations (e.g. Bulgaria, Poland and Romania). Surprisingly, Germany does less well amongst its Western European neighbours, whereas Greece and Portugal are way down the index.
A link to a gender equality index for European countries can be found below:
These figures may not be entirely surprising to regular readers of this Blog: in the first few months of 2020, I have highlighted the continuing gender pay gap (which continues to be stubbornly difficult to close) and pregnancy discrimination.
Speaking of pregnancy discrimination, two recent employment cases have highlighted how much of a problem this continues to be.
In 2019, an Industrial Tribunal (yes, they still exist in Northern Ireland) ruled that McGranes Nurseries Ltd had discriminated against one of its pregnant employees, Laura Gruzdaite, who was unfairly dismissed when she took time off work to attend a scan as part of her ante natal care. Ms Gruzdaite had informed her employer that she was pregnant.
In Northern Ireland, slightly different equality legislation is relevant to cases like that of Ms Gruzdaite, but the general objective is very similar. Had the case occurred in Scotland or England, we would have been discussing the Employment Rights Act 1996 which, of course, gives pregnant women a legal entitlement to take time off work to attend these types of appointment. In Northern Ireland, the relevant legislation is the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.
As for the actual pregnancy discrimination, we would have been referring to the Equality Act 2010, but in Northern Ireland, the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 contains the relevant law.
Ms Gruzdaite was awarded £28,000 in compensation from her former employers – significantly, £20,000 of this award represented an injury to feelings element.
Interestingly, the employer also got Ms Gruzdaite to sign a blank contract of employment which did not specify whether she was a temporary or permanent employee. All very suspect and an obvious breach of our Employment Rights Act too (and I’m certain of the Northern Ireland Order of 1996), but that’s a different story for now.
A link to the Industrial Tribunal’s decision can be found below:
In the second case, from England, Maya Georgiev was employed by Hanover Insolvency Ltd. She had not informed her employer that she was pregnant; she had been absent from work due to pregnancy related illnesses; and she was subsequently called to a disciplinary meeting. At this meeting, Ms Georgiev explained the reasons for her absence from work, but to no avail as her manager dismissed her. This was an unfair dismissal in terms of the Equality Act 2010 and the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Ironically, Ms Georgiev would have been better protected had she disclosed her pregnancy to her employer from the outset, but when the employer became aware of her situation it should have recognised that it had a duty not to discriminate against her by reason of her pregnancy. The Employment Tribunal will hold a Hearing on remedy later this year.
A link to the decision of the Employment Tribunal in this case can be found below:
Even in areas where progress has undoubtedly been made family friendly policies such as maternity leave – the English Court of Appeal recently ruled in Ali v Capita Customer Management Ltd and Hextall v Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police (2019) EWCA Civ 900 that it is not discriminatory to offer more generous family friendly arrangements to female employees. This may seem quite progressive on the face of things, but it continues to place the emphasis on women being the primary carers of children. It doesn’t exactly encourage a cultural shift towards more men taking time off work to care for their children.
The worst case scenario
… And finally, a rather stark reminder that, although progress for women’s rights has undoubtedly occurred, the overall picture remains very uneven. In certain parts of the world, being female means that you are more likely to be murdered. A phenomenon so prevalent in the Central American countries of Honduras and El Salvador that they refer to it as femicide.
You can find a link to this story on the Sky News website below:
Michael O’Leary, the motor mouth CEO of Ryanair, could never be accused of being a shrinking violet or one to shy away from a fight. As they say in Ireland: that one would cause trouble in an empty house.
The latest controversy to engulf Mr O’Leary concerns accusations of racism, religious discrimination and, indeed, sexism. Quite a charge sheet. He has suggested that single, males of the “Muslim persuasion” should be turned away from plane flights because “this is where the threat is.”
Ryanair is an Irish airline, but it services a large number of European destinations and many of its customer base will be single Muslim males who have quite lawful travelling plans.
Ryanair is a popular (I probably meant busy) airline that flies to and from destinations in the UK and many of British citizens are, of course, Muslim.
Mr O’Leary’s comments could potentially fall foul of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 in relation to direct discrimination (Section 13) on the grounds of the following protected characteristics:
Religion (Section 10)
Sex (Section 11)
Now the Muslim faith is not a racial characteristic, so where could the accusations of race possibly arise? Well, if you are applying a criterion to your customer base, it could have a disproportionately adverse effect on certain groups within the population. Muslims are much more likely to be found amongst non-White British and Irish UK citizens. Indirect discrimination any one? (see Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010)
There’s also the small matter of European Union law (yes, in the UK we continue to follow these rules throughout the Brexit transition period) and Mr O’Leary’s comments could represent a breach of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (primary legislation) and Equal Treatment Directives (secondary legislation).
There may be one get out for Mr O’Leary: if he can show that his comments were an objective (don’t laugh) and proportionate means of achieving a legitimate end. National security and health and safety concerns do, potentially, fall into this category, but Mr O’Leary’s approach to dealing with terrorism might be regarded as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut i.e. totally over the top and disproportionate. Section 192 of the Equality Act states:
“A person does not contravene this Act only by doing, for the purpose of safeguarding national security, anything it is proportionate to do for that purpose.”
Mr O’Leary may not be too concerned about the latest furore surrounding his comments – after all, as a fellow Irishman (Oscar Wilde) once remarked: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
In fairness to Mr O’Leary he has since apologised for his remarks, but the Muslim Council of Britain has condemned his comments (made in an interview with The Times).
Many Muslims have logged on Twitter their negative experiences of flying (see below):
A link to an article on the BBC News App about Mr O’Leary’s comments can be found below:
Last week I wrote a Blog about Stonewall’s list of 100 most inclusive UK employers for LGBTI people. The article summarised the advances in terms of the range of legal protection that the LGBTI communities now enjoy. From protection against discrimination in employment to same sex marriage, the turnaround in fortunes from a persecuted minority to part of the mainstream has been truly remarkable.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of The GreatGatsby once remarked that “Switzerland is a country where very few things begin, but many things end.”
Today, the Swiss voted in a referendum to introduce laws which would extend protection from discrimination to LGBTI people. The proposal attracted support from 63% of Swiss voters and, finally, begins to bring the country into line with many of its neighbours who happen to EU member states. Switzerland is not part of the EU and, therefore, is not under any obligation to implement European laws which combat sexual orientation discrimination.
Critics of the Swiss proposal stated that the proposal was unnecessary because the country’s constitution already protected LGBTI individuals (and the country is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights). There were also concerns about what the proposal might mean for freedom of speech. Clearly, a majority of voters did not share these concerns.
Switzerland has a reputation for being a relatively conservative society (with a small ‘c’). After all, it was only in 1991 that the Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden finally permitted women to have the right to vote in cantonal elections. In federal (national) elections, woman had been given the right to vote since 1971.
We often forget this has been an incremental or gradual process in the UK and it did not happen overnight. Therefore, it is not advisable to be for British people to be smug or to have feelings of superiority about this issue. It was, after all, as recently as 2003 that the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 were implemented by the then Labour Government of Tony Blair. For the first time in UK employment law, LGBTI individuals were protected from discrimination in employment and training. This important law, critically, did not cover the provision of services and it was with the passage of the Equality Act 2010 that this area was eventually covered.
A link to an article on the BBC News app about the story can be found below:
It never ceases to amaze me that employers and service providers fall foul of arbitrary codes or policies which they impose on employees and service users. Regular readers of this Blog will be aware of previous articles covering discrimination or less favourable treatment which arises because employers or service providers issue generalised guidelines which discriminate against individuals because they happen to have certain hairstyles or wear beards or jewellery.
It is this lack of awareness that often leads to legal action in terms of the Equality Act 2010. By imposing a policy, criterion or practice (PCP) across the board, employers and other organisations could be setting themselves up for a fall specifically in relation to Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010. This part of the Act makes indirect discrimination unlawful i.e. it is an example of prohibited conduct by reason of a person or a group possessing a protected characteristic such as race or religion (Sections 9 and 10 respectively)
Since the introduction of the Race Relations Act 1976 (now repealed by the Equality Act 2010), we have seen a number of well known cases involving indirect discrimination being determined by Courts and Tribunals. So, you would think by now that employers and other organisations would have learned the lesson by now – apparently not as we shall see shortly.
In short order, such bans or generalised restrictions may infringe religious and cultural expression and may not only be a breach of the Equality Act, but could also represent a breach of human rights laws under the Human Rights Act 1998 and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Over the years, groups such as Jews, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Sikhs and Rastafarians have brought successful legal actions for indirect discrimination on grounds of race and/or religion (see MandlavDowell–Lee  UKHL 7). Being Jewish or Sikh can be both a religious and a racial identity.
Taking all of the above on board, I was really interested to read a story in The Independent this weekend which highlighted the problems of schools imposing dress codes on pupils. I thought: haven’t we been here before and why does no one seem to learn?
The story in question involves Ruby Williams who was “repeatedly sent home from Urswick School in Hackney, East London because she had Afro hair”. The school seems to have reacted with gross insensitivity to the youngster by informing her that her hairstyle was a breach of school uniform policy and that it could “block other pupils from seeing the whiteboard”.
Ruby and her family took legal action against the school (with the support of the Equality and Human Rights Commission) and she has since been awarded an out of court settlement of £8,500. The settlement figure clearly reflects the distress which she has suffered and the fact that all this trouble took place when she was studying for her GCSE exams (remember the Vento Guidelines anyone?). Ruby’s father is a Rastafarian and he has often stressed to his daughter the cultural, racial and religious significance of Afro hairstyles.
Apart from indirect discrimination which the school’s policy has caused to Ruby Williams, she may well also have had a claim in terms of Section 13 (direct discrimination) and Section 26 (harassment) of the Equality Act 2010 for being singled out in this way by the school authorities.
Perhaps the staff and Governors of the school might find it appropriate to undertake an equality awareness course at the next in-service day?
It is always open to an employer or service provider to show that although indirect discrimination has taken place, it can be objectively justified e.g. on national security grounds or health and safety reasons (e.g. Singh v Rowntree MacKintosh  ICR 554 and Panesar v Nestle Co Ltd IRLR 64 CA).
Each attempt to justify a provision, criterion or policy (PCP) will, of course, turn on its facts and it would be very foolish for organisations to think that there is some sort of magic bullet or get out of jail card which can be used in every situation to justify or excuse conduct which would otherwise amount to unlawful discrimination. Organisations should review policies on a regular basis and, if need be, this may necessitate the carrying out of an equality impact assessment.
A link to the story on The Independent’s website can be found below:
The only gay in the village became a household phrase in the UK thanks to the long running Little Britain sitcom TV and radio series (which has been broadcast by the BBC since 2000).
Daffyd Thomas claimed to be the only gay person in a small, Welsh village (actually he wasn’t), but in some respects his catchphrase reflected the isolation that many people in the LGBTI communities experience – either in their personal or professional lives.
The reason that I mention this topic is because, last week, the LGBTI campaigning organisation, Stonewall, published research about the most inclusive LGBTI friendly employers in the UK (Newcastle City Council topped the list). That said, for many LGBTI employees, an inclusive work place is still a far off dream.
Please find a link to a story on the Sky News website about one employee’s decision to hide his LGBTI identity from his colleagues:
A person’s sexual orientation is, of course, a protected characteristic in terms of Section 12 of the Equality Act 2010. Such individuals should not be subjected to direct discrimination (Section 13); indirect discrimination (Section 19); harassment (Section 26); and victimisation (Section 27).
Many years ago, I remember teaching a group of students who were studying for a professional qualification. Many of them were employed by recruitment agencies and it was my task to highlight the relevant provisions of discrimination law at that time. One evening, we had a discussion about discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation – particularly in the context of the ban on gay and lesbian people serving in the UK Armed Forces. This ban would eventually be lifted in 2000 – following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Smith and Grady v UK (1999) 29 EHRR 493.
One of the students asked me what protection existed for gay and lesbian people in employment law generally. Very little was my response. Before the introduction of the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, the work place could be very hostile for LGBTI people (see Macdonald v Lord Advocate; Pearce v Governing Body of Mayfield School  UKHL 34).
Yes, admittedly, the UK was (and still is in spite of Brexit) a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. In particular, Article 8 of the Convention recognises the right to family and private life. It was this Article which was used to overturn extremely restrictive laws on same sex relationships which existed in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Reinforcing Article 8 is Article 14 of the Convention is Article 14 which contains a general prohibition on discrimination.
The late 1960s are often referred to as the key period of the start of gay liberation in the UK with the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised homosexual relationships between consenting adults (aged 21 or over) and as long as such conduct was in private. What is often overlooked is that the 1967 Act applied to England and Wales only. The picture was very different (and would remain so for over a decade – sometimes longer) in various parts of the British Isles.
Homosexual relationships were decriminalised in Scotland in 1980; in Northern Ireland in 1982; the UK Crown Dependency of Guernsey in 1983; the UK Crown Dependency of Jersey in 1990; and the UK Crown Dependency of the Isle of Man in 1994. The age of consent was set at 21 for all these parts of the British Isles. Things have since moved on.
In the last 20 years, the influence of the European Union has been particularly profound regarding measures to combat sexual orientation discrimination.
In 1999, as a result of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the EU adopted two Directives which considerably expanded the scope of its anti-discrimination laws (the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC) and the Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC). Of particular interest to this discussion is the Employment Equality Directive which made it unlawful to discriminate against a person on grounds of sexual orientation. Admittedly, this Directive was limited because it covered the areas of employment and vocational training only.
It did not extend to the provision of goods and services, so had the case of Bull and Another v Hall and Another  UKSC 73 had occurred when the Directive was transposed into UK domestic law, the same sex couple who were refused a double room at the guest house in Cornwall would not have been successful in their claim for sexual orientation discrimination.
On 1 December 2003, the Employment Equality Directive would eventually become part of UK law in the form of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. The Regulations were repealed and replaced by the relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010 (which came into force on 1 October 2010).
Shortly afterwards, the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 would give legal recognition (and protection) to gay and lesbian people who chose to enter such relationships. These rights would be further underpinned by permitting same sex couples to marry (in England and Wales in 2013 and in Scotland in 2014). Currently, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to permit same sex marriage – although this will change from next week onwards (see link below):
Robyn Peoples and Sharni Edwards will celebrate their wedding on Tuesday in Carrickfergus.
This change to the law has come about as a result of the introduction of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 passed by the UK Parliament (in the absence of of a functioning devolved government for nearly the last 3 years).
The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) is also worthy of comment. Article 19 prohibits discrimination by reason of a person’s sexual orientation and, notably, this provision is hardwired into UK law by way of the Equality Act 2010. Article 19 extended legal protection to gay and lesbian people more generally – over and above the limited areas of employment and vocational training which the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Employment Equality Directive had originally addressed.
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (although Poland and the UK had negotiated some opt-outs) contained significant provisions on equality and non-discrimination, namely, Article 20 (equality before the law) and Article 21 (the principle of non-discrimination).
Finally, if employers want to do more to create an inclusive work place, they could start by using Stonewall’s inclusive toolkits (see link below):
As a society, the UK has certainly moved on from the overtly hostile attitudes towards members of the LGBTI communities over the last 50 years or so. The legal rights and protections which LGBTI people now enjoy would have seemed unthinkable in 1967 when a limited form of tolerance was ushered in as a result of the Sexual Offences Act (in England and Wales). More recently, the UK and Scottish Governments have issued pardons to those individuals who were convicted of criminal offences under the previous laws (in 2017: the Policing and Crime Act 2017 in England and Wales (known as Turing’s Law after Alan Turing, the Enigma Code Breaker) and, in 2018, the Scottish Parliament followed suit by passing the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Act 2018).
On Friday 7 February 2020, Phillip Schofield, the British TV celebrity announced that he was gay at the age of 57. Mr Schofield is married with 2 children and had lived a heterosexual life – until now. He likened hiding his sexual orientation to being in prison and being consumed by it.
A link to the story on the Sky News website can be found below:
We’re still in the month January and the issue of serious disparities in pay between the sexes raises its ugly head once again. I’ve said it before; but I’ll say it again: we’ve had over 40 years of legislation in the UK (first the Equal Pay Act 1970 and now the Equality Act 2010, not to mention EU primary and secondary legislation) which should have put the issue to rest.
The Equality Act 2010 incorporates an equality clause into contracts of employment which means that employers have a duty to ensure that men and women are paid on equal terms for carrying out like work; work rated equivalent; and work of equal value.
It’s hard to believe that the groundbreaking decision of the Court of Justice of the EU in Case 43/75 Defrenne v Sabena (No 2)  ECR 455 was in the 1970s and here we are, entering the second decade of the 21st Century, still talking about the issue of equal pay – or the lack of it.
There is a depressing familiarity to stories in the UK media about the lack of progress regarding this issue. This is surprising because successful equal pay claims can be be very costly in financial terms for employers. In 2019, after Glasgow City Council female employees won their battle for equal pay, there was much speculation about how the employer was going to pay the bill. One of the (seemingly) more dramatic predictions was that the City Council would have to sell Salvador Dali’s world famous painting Christ of St John of the Cross in order to meet its legal obligations to its underpaid female employees. Susan Aitken, the City Council leader, was forced to issue a denial that this was a possibility. When you realise that the estimated value of Dali’s painting starts at £60 million you begin to get an idea of the scale of the problem.
That said, some years ago, Birmingham City Council was forced to sell its share in the National Exhibition Centre in order to meet the (awesome) financial burden of thousands of equal pay claims . The price achieved was £307million – although 3 years later, the asset was sold once more for an eye watering figure of £800 million (allegedly).
Recent research carried out by the English law firm, Slater+Gordon, suggests that women fail to gain pay increases because they are not negotiating with their employers about this issue. Campaigning groups, such as Close the Gap, are firmly of the opinion that the onus should not be placed on women to push for equal pay; rather it should be the responsibility of the State and/or employers to achieve this goal. There has to be real cultural change in society and women need to be valued more if the gender gap is to become a thing of the past.
Links to articles in The Independent about the equal pay research that Slater+Gordon Solicitors carried out can be found below:
And if you remain unconvinced about ingrained gender bias in the corporate world generally, you will find a link below to research carried out by The Independent which demonstrates how many leading tech companies suffer from the lack of women in leadership roles: