Today seems to be something of a red letter day for the Blog with regard to the issue of protected philosophical beliefs in terms of the Equality Act 2010.
We have already heard the news that Jordi Casamitjana has won the part of his Employment Tribunal claim that his ethical veganism is a philosophical belief in terms of Sections 4 and 10 of the 2010 Act (see Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports ).
It was some interest that another news item popped up today concerning allegations that Amazon stands accused of threatening to dismiss those of its employees who become involved in climate protests. I would hazard a guess that Amazon is making a statement of intent that it may dismiss employees who perhaps break the law when they are involved in climate protests such as those organised by Extinction Rebellion and other similarly minded groups.
Criminal acts by employees committed outside the workplace could be regarded as gross misconduct in terms of Section 98 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. In other words, such behaviour by employees could result in the employer suffering reputational damage and, consequently, any dismissal for misconduct could be potentially fair. That said, employers should always carry out the proper disciplinary procedures when contemplating dismissal as the ultimate sanction for employee misbehaviour.
The real gripe – according to Amazon Employees for Climate Justice – is that the tech company allegedly objects to employees speaking critically about its failure to be more environmentally responsible.
Yet, there are potential dangers here for Amazon in the UK. In Grainger plc v Nicholson (2010) IRLR 4, the Employment Appeal Tribunal established that an employee’s belief in climate change could constitute discrimination on the grounds of a philosophical belief.
So, we could have situation where Amazon employees who are taking part in quite peaceful and lawful climate change protests end up being dismissed. This would open up the possibility that employees of Amazon UK might have the right to bring claims for direct discrimination (Section 13: Equality Act 2010) in respect of their philosophical beliefs (Sections 4 and 10 of the Act).
In the USA, there could be even more serious legal implications – infringing the right to free speech which is protected under the Constitution.
Perhaps Amazon needs to go back to the drawing board …
A link to an article on the BBC News App 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.
As of today (31 December 2019), heterosexual couples in England and Wales will be able to enter civil partnerships as an alternative to marriage.
This change does not yet extend to Scotland: the Scottish Government has introduced its own Bill to introduce civil partnerships for heterosexual couples.
An info graphic showing the current progress of this Bill in the Scottish Parliament (Stage 1) can be seen below:
When the Labour Government of Prime Minister Tony Blair originally introduced civil partnerships across the UK (as a result of the Civil Partnerships Act 2004) such legal unions were open to gay and lesbian couples only.
It was the first time in the history of Scots and English family law that gay and lesbian couples were entitled to enter a legally recognised relationship.
Fast forward a decade or so and we now have same sex marriage in Scotland, England and Wales – but not yet Northern Ireland (although the clock may be ticking here on this issue). Admittedly, same sex couples can enter civil partnerships in Northern Ireland, but since the Republic of Ireland made same sex marriage legal in 2015, pressure has been mounting for change in the North.
The case which started the ball rolling was Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education EWHC 128 (Admin).
In Steinfeld and Keidan, an unmarried, heterosexual couple brought a claim for unlawful less favourable treatment against the UK Government on the basis that the law (contained in the Civil Partnership Act 2004) discriminated against them by forcing them to enter marriage as opposed to their preferred option of a civil partnership arrangement. The couple had strong “ideological objections” to marriage (irrespective of whether it took a religious or civil form) and argued, amongst other things, that the failure by the United Kingdom to give them the option of entering a civil partnership was a potential breach of their Article 8 rights (the right to privacy and family life) in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ban on civil partnerships for heterosexual couples was also a potential breach of the Equality Act 2010 in the sense that it represented direct discrimination on grounds of a person’s sexual orientation.
Initially, the English High Court rejected the challenge brought by Steinfeld and Keidan, whereupon the case was allowed to proceed to the English Court of Appeal. Although expressing sympathy for Steinfeld and Keidan’s predicament, the Lord Justices of Appeal refused to overturn the ban (see Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education  EWCA Civ 81).
The couple were then given leave to appeal to the UK Supreme Court.
On 27 June 2018, the Supreme Court issued its decision: R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary)  UKSC 32.
Lord Kerr gave the leading judgement (with which his fellow Justices concurred) and allowed Steinfeld and Keidan’s appeal:
“I would allow the appeal and make a declaration that sections 1 and 3 of CPA [Civil Partnership Act 2004] (to the extent that they preclude a different sex couple from entering into a civil partnership) are incompatible with article 14 of ECHR taken in conjunction with article 8 of the Convention.”
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the UK Government of former Prime Minister Theresa May initiated steps to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in respect of the law for England and Wales.
A link to an article about the change to the law in England and Wales on the Sky News website can be found below:
An interesting case which caught my attention recently seemed to raise many issues which I have been emphasising to my students who are preparing for their upcoming Discrimination Law exam this month.
The case (The Governing Body of Tywyn Primary Schoolv Aplin Case No 1600635/2016 ) seemed to cover (almost) the whole syllabus of the Discrimination Law unit:
A discrimination dismissal of a high flying professional employee (a head teacher)
A large sum of compensation awarded to the employee for the dismissal (nearly £700,000)
Direct discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic (the employee’s sexual orientation) in terms Sections 4, 12 and 13 of the Equality Act 2010
The real problems faced by the employee in attempting to mitigate his losses (which the amount of the compensation award reflects)
Breach of disciplinary procedures by the employer
Breach of human rights i.e. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to privacy and family life)
Alleged reputational damage caused to the employer as a result of the employee’s conduct
The reversal of the burden of proof
The use of hypothetical comparators
Matthew Aplin is an openly gay man who was the head teacher of Tywyn primary school in Wales. He has been a teacher for 19 years and has an excellent professional reputation. In 2015, allegations about Aplin’s private life came to the attention of his employer (the School’s Board of Governors). It was alleged that Aplin had engaged in consensual sexual relationships with two 17 year old males that he had met through Grindr, the well known dating app. Users of Grindr must be aged 18 or over and, significantly, Aplin did not suspect the true age of the two males.
Aplin believed that the two young men were over 18 and, in any case, users of Grindr have to be aged 18 or over.
Following these allegations of alleged misconduct, Aplin was suspended and the Board of Governors commenced a disciplinary investigation.
At the request of the Governors, an investigating officer (Mr Gordon) was appointed by the local council. Mr Gordon’s terms of reference in respect of Aplin’s behaviour were as follows:
(a) had this brought the reputation of the School into disrepute?
(b) had it impacted on his ability to undertake the role of Head Teacher?; and/or
(c) had it demonstrated so gross an error of judgment as to undermine the School’s confidence in him and, therefore, to call into question his continuation in the role?
Mr Gordon quickly concluded that Aplin should be dismissed from his post despite the fact that this employee did not represent a possible threat to children. Local Police officers were briefly involved in their own investigation, but significantly they later concluded that no crime had been committed by Aplin.
Despite this, Aplin was dismissed for gross misconduct by the School Governors.
He promptly appealed against his dismissal, but the Governors did not deal with this matter efficiently or properly. Angered at the perceived lack of fair treatment of his appeal, Aplin decided to resign from his employment and claim unfair (constructive) dismissal; discrimination by reason of his sexual orientation; and interference with his right to respect for private and family life.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (which became involved to deal with technical aspects of the case) later noted:
“There were numerous procedural errors which amounted to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence in the investigation and the disciplinary hearing.”
Ordinarily, the burden of proof lies upon the claimant (Aplin) to show that discrimination has taken place. In this case, there were enough factors present which meant that the burden of proof should shift to the respondent (the School Governors) who would now have to show that they had not discriminated against Aplin.
On the question of whether the burden of proof should be reversed, Judge Shanks in the Employment Appeal Tribunal had this to say:
“… in my view the thrust of it [the Tribunal’s reasoning] is clear and it provides a sufficient basis for the ET’s decision that the burden of proof had shifted on the question of whether Mr Aplin was treated unfavourably because of his sexual orientation.”
In arriving at this position, Judge Shanks was firmly of the view that:
“.. the Tribunal had rightly recognised that the background to the whole case was intimately connected with Mr Aplin’s sexuality; they then judge that the procedural failures by the School were so egregious that the inference could be drawn that there was more to it than simply the fact that he had had lawful sex with two 17 year olds; and they therefore considered that it would be possible, in the absence of any other explanation, properly to infer that he had been discriminated against because of his sexual orientation. That seems to me a perfectly acceptable line of reasoning.”
The decision of the Employment Tribunal
Aplin had been unfairly dismissed; and subjected to direct discrimination by reason of his sexual orientation.
As a point of interest, the case involved the use of hypothetical comparators to arrive at its decision, namely, would a heterosexual teacher (either male or female) who had sexual relations with two 17 year olds have been treated in the same way as Aplin? The Employment Tribunal concluded that such individuals would not have been treated any differently.
Interestingly, in its final judgement, the Tribunal found that, although a person’s sexual relationships are undoubtedly covered by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, it is not an absolute right. Such a right may be restricted or interfered with “where it is necessary for the protection of morals” in “a democratic society”:
“Thererefore, we consider that it is possible to conclude that in the circumstances of this case the claimant could have been disciplined for his admitted conduct within the qualification in Article 8(2). …
… However, a fair process would require the respondent to consider whether the claimant was aware that the individuals were 17 years of age. Further it would have to consider what the real risk of the issues becoming public were and therefore what the real potential for reputational damage was.”
The two 17 year olds were children in the eyes of the law and Aplin, as a Head Teacher, could be viewed as someone who was in a position of power and that position which could be abused by him.
As Aplin had admitted to his conduct (the relationships with the two males), the Employment Tribunal concluded that there was at least. 20% chance of him being dismissed successfully – had the proper disciplinary procedures been carried by the employer (which of course they were not). In this respect, Aplin suffered a 20% deduction in the overall compensation awarded to him as per the guidelines originally laid down in Polkey v AEDayton Services Ltd  UKHL 8.
Links to the decisions of the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal can be found below:
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:
Yesterday, I tuned into Jeremy Vine’s daily show on BBC Radio 2 while out in the car and happened to catch an interesting discussion about potential discrimination and blood donation.
Ethan Spibey was a guest on the show and he was discussing his campaign to make it easier for gay and bisexual men to make regular blood donations. Mr Spibey is involved in a campaigning organisation called Freedom to Donate.
Readers of this Blog will be aware that I often discuss examples of actual or potential discrimination in terms of the Equality Act 2010.
Mr Spibey’s contribution to the Jeremy Vine show got me thinking about an issue – to which I readily confess hadn’t featured much on my radar previously: was the requirement or condition imposed by the NHS in this country making gay or bisexual men abstain from sex for 3 months before they are permitted to give blood an example of discriminatory treatment?
A link to Freedom to Donate’s Twitter account can be found below:
The discussion about restrictions on who can give blood got me thinking: would this be an example of direct and/or indirect discrimination in terms of Sections 13 and 19 respectively of the Equality Act 2010?
Direct discrimination occurs when someone experiences unlawful, less favourable treatment because they possess a protected characteristic (in this situation: sexual orientation).
As we shall see, gay and bisexual men are certainly placed at a distinct disadvantage in regarding the current restrictions on blood donation when comparing their situation to that of heterosexuals.
The National Health Service (NHS) is also applying a practice criterion or policy (PCP) which has a disproportionately adverse effect on men who are gay or bisexual.
Section 19 of the Equality Act defines indirect discrimination in the following terms:
A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if A applies to B a provision, criterion or practice which is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B’s.’
Section 19(2) makes it very clear what it is meant by a discriminatory provision, criterion or practice in relation to a relevant protected characteristic:
(a)A applies, or would apply, it to persons with whom B does not share the characteristic,
(b) it puts, or would put, persons with whom B shares the characteristic at a particular disadvantage when compared with persons with whom B does not share it,
(c) it puts, or would put, B at that disadvantage, and
(d)A cannot show it to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
In 2017, to much fanfare, NHS England announced that the previous 12 month abstention period for gay and bisexual men had been reduced to the current period of 3 months.
A link to a press release from NHS England can be found below:
Apparently, all blood donors are asked about their sexual orientation as part of the screening process. However … if you are a gay or bisexual man, then you are asked further questions about your sex life.
Needless to say this requirement does not apply to individuals whose stated sexual orientation is heterosexual.
Now, Ethan Spibey conceded that the paramount duty of the NHS was to ensure the safety of blood donations, but he was firmly of the view that heterosexuals could pose just as much of a threat to the health and safety of the beneficiary.
Are gay and bisexual men suffering as a result of a hangover from the 1980s when the fear of AIDS and HIV was omnipresent as the rather grim public information film from the time demonstrates?:
The current approach to blood donations, as campaigners like Mr Spibey would argue, results in a blanket policy which has a disproportionately adverse effect on gay and bisexual men. A person’s sexual orientation is, of course, a protected characteristic in terms of Sections 4 and 12 of the Equality Act 2010.
Health and safety can be used as an objective justification to defeat claims of discrimination, but it must be a credible defence. Do gay and bisexual men represent a greater threat to the safety and security of the nation’s blood supply? Clearly, the scientific evidence would have to be objective and credible to sustain this argument.
After listening to Mr Spibey, I was left with the impression that the scientific evidence for treating this group of people differently might not be so clear cut.
A link to a discussion on the BBC website about the issue can be found below: