Pregnancy discrimination (or New Year, same old story …Part 2)

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

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:

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/managing-pregnancy-and-maternity-workplace/pregnancy-and-maternity-discrimination-research-findings

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) which campaigns to end the ‘motherhood penalty’:

https://pregnantthenscrewed.com

A link to Helen Larkin’s story as reported in The Independent can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.110120/data/9278901/index.html

Related Blog articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/10/new-year-same-old-story/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/14/hurt-feelings/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/22/sticks-and-stones-may-break-my-bones-but-names-will-never-hurt-me/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/07/08/just-blew-it-again/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/08/22/the-trouble-with-pregnancy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/09/10/barbaric/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 11 January 2020

I’m a climate activist, don’t fire me!

Photo by Stock Photography on Unsplash

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 [2020]).

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:

Amazon ‘threatens to fire’ climate change activists

The company said employees “may receive a notification” from HR if rules were “not being followed”.

Related Blog article:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/05/im-a-political-activist-dont-sack-me/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 3 January 2020

Is it cos I is black?

Ali G was (and still is) the memorable creation of the comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen. Ali G’s catchphrase was “Is it cos I is black?” and the comedian famously put this to a senior British police officer when he gatecrashed a political protest during a sketch for one of his TV shows on Channel 4.

Sacha Baron Cohen was making a very serious point when he wrote and planned such escapades: he was satirising the widespread racist sterotyping of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups in the UK by their fellow White British citizens. When the character of Ali G first made appearances on Channel 4’s The 11 o’clock Show in 1999, it’s worth remembering that it was less than 6 years after the murder of the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, in London.

Coincidentally, in 1999, Sir William Macpherson, a retired judge of the English High Court, had published his Report on the Stephen Lawrence murder and one of his most famous conclusions concerned the levels of “institutional racism” in the Metropolitan Police Service (paragraphs 4.45 – 6.63).

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/277111/4262.pdf

Several years ago, I attended an event for Black History Month and members of the panel were recounting their experiences of racism in the UK. Glasgow City Councillor, Graham Campbell told the story of his cousin who worked at Ford’s Dagenham car plant who constantly had his locker broken into and vandalised by his white, work colleagues. More often than not, his work tools were stolen from the locker. Eventually, this young man started to carry his tools to and from the Ford plant in order to avoid having to replace them. He was stopped and searched regularly by the same police officers who asked him each time if the tools were for burglaries. This was the kind of harassment that black people typically experienced in Britain of the 1970s.

Racial stereotyping which leads to people from certain ethnic groups suffering (unlawful) less favourable treatment is an example of direct discrimination in terms of Sections 9 and 13 of the Equality Act 2010. Repeated examples of harassment on grounds of race would also constitute breaches of Sections 9 and 26 of the Equality Act 2010.

So, it was with some interest that I read an article in The Independent on Saturday 15 June 2019 which recounted an incident which had taken place in Maidstone in Kent whereby a white police officer had assumed that a black man must be a criminal just because he happened to be in an area which was perceived to be ‘white’.

In England and Wales, you are much more likely to be stopped and searched by the police if you happen to come from the black community:

It doesn’t seem as if attitudes to race in certain sections of the police have moved on much from the 1970s.

A link to the story in The Independent can be found below:††

‘Officer assumed black man was criminal in ‘white area

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.150619/data/8959141/index.html

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 18 June 2019

Don’t do it!

george-pagan-iii-624417-unsplash.jpg

Don’t do what? Get pregnant, it would seem if you’re a female athlete who receives sponsorship from one of the planet’s most visible sporting brands.

Just this week, allegations have been made by a number of female athletes that Nike withdrew sponsorship after they discovered that they were pregnant.

Now, if the allegations are true, this would certainly represent an example of unlawful, less favourable treatment. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination are prohibited in terms of Sections 17 (non-work cases) and 18 (work cases) of the Equality Act 2010. They are very specific forms of sex discrimination (a person’s sex or gender is a protected characteristic in terms of Section 11 of the Act).

In 2019, you might have been forgiven for thinking that pregnancy discrimination was a thing of the past…

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975

The (now repealed) Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which was held up as a significant advance for woman’s equality, was fundamentally flawed when it addressed the issue of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

When the Act of 1975 was first introduced, cases involving alleged discrimination connected to a woman’s pregnancy encountered an unexpected problem, which the Parliamentary draftsmen had not taken into account: how could it be valid to attempt a comparison between that of a pregnant woman’s situation with that of a man? A strict application of the legislation meant that this was not a valid comparison and, therefore, many of the earliest sex discrimination claims failed because some judges applied the literal approach to the interpretation of the Act – even if this made the law something of an ass and, more seriously, led to blatant injustice.

This Act made it very clear that central to the success of any claim was the complainant’s ability to compare his or her allegedly less favourable treatment to an actual or hypothetical male/female comparator. If he or she could not do this, the claim would fail. A woman claiming that she had suffered discrimination on the grounds of her sex must have been able to carry out a like with like comparison.

The woman’s circumstances and those of her male comparator must have been broadly the same (they should not have been materially different) otherwise a meaningful comparison could not be made.

The European Union

This situation really continued into the 1990s and, it was only when the Court of Justice of the European Union resolved the matter in Dekker v Stichting Vormingscentrum voor Jonge Volwassen Plus (1991), that things started to improve. Dekker clearly established that there was no requirement for pregnant women to identify a male comparator when they were alleging that they had experienced unlawful, less favourable treatment.

The Equality Act 2010 now, in theory, affords pregnant women and mothers much stronger legal protection than the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 ever did, but yet examples of pregnancy and maternity discrimination still arise.

It was as recently as 2016 that the Equalities and Women Committee of the House of Commons exposed the shocking extent of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK. Maria Miller MP, chair of the Committee stated:

Our 2016 report laid bare the significant discrimination and poor treatment faced by 54,000 pregnant women and mothers at work each year.”

A link to the Committee’s Report can be found below:

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/women-and-equalities-committee/news-parliament-2017/pregnancy-maternity-discrimination-2-statement-17-19/

Just do it?

Being deadly serious, the above slogan (of Nike) will hardly sit well with those female athletes in receipt of sponsorship from the company. That said, should we really be surprised that stories of this nature emerge when read against the Report of the Women and Equalities Committee?

A link to the article about alleged pregnancy discrimination as reported by Sky News can be found below:

Pregnant athletes ‘punished’ by Nike, says champion British runner Jo Pavey
http://news.sky.com/story/pregnant-athletes-punished-by-nike-says-champion-british-runner-jo-pavey-11721817

In 2018, Nike was praised for endorsing Colin Kaepernick, the former African American Football star who had actively campaigned to raise awareness of racial inequality. Now with these sex discrimination allegations, is it a case of one step forward, ten steps back for Nike?

Postscript

On 26 May 2019, The Independent reported that Nike had promised not to impose financial penalties on those female athletes who became pregnant and who were in receipt of sponsorship from the corporation. This was undoubtedly due to the considerable, adverse publicity which the story had generated around the world.

A link to the article in The Independent can be found below:


https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.260519/data/8930341/index.html

On 17 August 2019, the BBC reported that Nike had removed the offensive clause from its contracts with female athletes.

A link to the story can be found below:

Allyson Felix: Nike changes policy for pregnant athletes

Six-time Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix says female athletes will “no longer be financially penalised for having a child” after Nike changed its sponsorship contracts.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 17 & 26 May and 17 August 2019

Philosophical beliefs (or you’d better believe it!)

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Unlike religious beliefs, which tend to be more easily recognised under the Equality Act 2010, a person’s philosophical beliefs can be something of a grey area This means that it can be very difficult for employers and service providers to identify when someone has a genuine belief which is protected by law.  

Section 4 of the Equality Act 2010 recognises that a person can be subjectedto unlawful, less favourable treatment (discrimination) owing to certainbeliefs which they possess.

Section 10 of the Equality Act defines religion and beliefs:

(1) Religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes areference to a lack of religion.

(2) Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a referenceto belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.
(3) In relation to the protected characteristic of religion or belief—

(a) a reference to a person who has a particular protectedcharacteristic is a reference to a person of a particular religion or belief;

(b) a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons who are of the same religion or belief.

In Lisk v Shield Guardian Co Ltd and others ET/3300873/11, anemployee was told that he was not permitted to wear a poppy while at work. Theemployee, an ex-serviceman, argued that by wearing the poppy he wascommemorating the sacrifices of those killed in armed conflicts. The EmploymentTribunal disagreed with the employee’s argument that his decision to wear apoppy while at work was a legitimate philosophical belief.

Yet, in earlier decision: Grainger plc v Nicholson (2010) IRLR 4the Employment Appeal Tribunal established that Nicholson’s belief in climate changecould constitute discrimination on the grounds of a philosophical belief.

Similarly, in Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Ltd (t/a Orchard Park) ET/3105555/2009 a prominent animal rights activist (Joe Hashman) was deemed to have been dismissed unfairly by his employer by reason of his philosophical beliefs i.e. his belief in the sanctity of all life, both human and animal.

Recently, some interesting cases have come before Employment Tribunalsdealing with the issue of philosophical beliefs.

In one case, Christopher McEleny an SNP Councillor won a pre-Hearing Review which established that a belief in Scottish independence could constitute a protected characteristic in terms of the Equality Act 2010.

Please see a link to the judgement of the Employment Tribunal:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5b6c8c5bed915d310f7fcd07/Mr_C_McEleny_v_Ministry_of_Defence_41053472017_OPH.pdf

In the second case, Jordi Casamitjana, has taken his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports to an Employment Tribunal alleging that he had been subjected to discrimination on the grounds that he is a vegan. He alleged that he had been dismissed from his job because he had revealed that his employer had allegedly invested pension funds in organisations which carried out animal testing. At the time of writing (January 22, 2019), it remains to be seen whether Mr Casamitjana will be successful in his legal action.

Veganism, as a belief system which should be recognised and protected by law has divided opinion as the final BBC report demonstrates.

Independence views ‘protected by law’

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-45075801

Support for Scottish nationalism should be protected by law, a tribunal judge rules against the Ministry of Defence.

Sacked vegan claims discrimination in landmark case:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46385597

Finally, the controversy over veganism as a belief system continues to attract headlines in the media as the BBC article (below) demonstrates:

Waitrose Food: Editor William Sitwell resigns over ‘killing vegans’ row

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46042314

The company said his suggested series on “killing vegans one by one” had “gone too far”.

Conclusion

Mr McEleny’s case and Mr Casamitjana’s case clearly demonstrate the difficulties that employers will have when it comes to a person’s philosophical beliefs.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 22 January 2019