International Women’s Day (What’s so great about it?)

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

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:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.070320/data/9384076/index.html

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:

https://www.equalityni.org/ECNI/media/ECNI/Cases%20and%20Settlements/OITFET%20online%20decisions%20as%20pdfs/Gruzdaite-v-McGranes-Nurseries-Ltd-July19.pdf

Pregnant woman ‘unfairly dismissed’ rules industrial tribunal

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:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5e565151d3bf7f3947cf26a5/Miss_M_Georgiev_v_Hanover_Insolvency_Limited_-2400113_2019-_Judgment.pdf

A link to a story about Ms Georgiev’s experiences can be found below on the People Management website:

https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/worker-discriminated-against-after-boss-unfairly-dismissed-her-for-pregnancy-related-absences

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:

https://news.sky.com/story/the-most-dangerous-place-in-the-world-to-be-a-woman-11950981

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/30/2020-same-old-sexism-yes-equal-pay-again/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/11/pregnancy-discrimination-or-new-year-same-old-story-part-2/

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

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/11/born-leader/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 8 March 2020

2020: same old sexism (yes, equal pay again)

Photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash

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) [1976] 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.

https://www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/16594318.glasgow-city-council-wont-be-flogging-off-famous-dali-painting-to-cover-equal-pay-claims/

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).

https://www.ft.com/content/da429608-9d8e-11e4-8946-00144feabdc0

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:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.280120/data/9304961/index.html

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.280120/data/9304901/index.html

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.280120/data/9304016/index.html

Postscript

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:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.200220/data/9344746/index.html

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 30 January & 20 February 2020

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). In fact, Ms Larkin was awarded £10,000 in compensation to reflect injury to feelings.

A link to the judgement of the Employment Tribunal can be found below:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5e2f0300e5274a6c42dcd132/Mrs_H_Larkin_v_Liz_Earle_Beauty_Co._Ltd_-_1403400.2018.pdf

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

New Year, same old story …

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/17/glasgow-council-women-workers-win-12-year-equal-pay-battle

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:

Source: UK Ministry of Justice obtained from BBC News

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:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.100120/data/9277336/index.html

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):

http://news.sky.com/story/samira-ahmed-tv-presenter-wins-sex-discrimination-equal-pay-claim-against-the-bbc-11905304

And if you’re still not convinced …

read the following article in The Independent about discrimination in pay between male and female apprentices (guess what?; it’s not the men who are the victims):

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.150120/data/9283611/index.html

Copyright – Seán J Crossan, 10 and 15 January 2020

Hostile, degrading, humiliating

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:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/deli-worker-awarded-20-000-for-almost-daily-sexual-harassment-1.4128207

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:

https://www.crosslandsolicitors.com/site/hr-hub/injury-to-feelings-awards-updated-Vento-guidelines-April-2018

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:

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/sexual-harassment-and-the-law-guidance-for-employers.docx

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.

Related Blog Articles

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/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 1 January 2020

Barbaric!

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

We may think that in Western societies we’ve come a long way regarding the advances made by women.

Then, before we get too smug, something happens which forces us to confront the fact that we’re not quite as enlightened or civilised as we like to think.

Such an incident occurred last week in the United States of America when it was reported that a the authorities were negligent when Diana Sanchez, a pregnant woman who was being held in Denver County Jail, was denied proper medical treatment. The woman’s cries for help were allegedly ignored for 5 hours and she was forced to give birth to her son in the prison cell.

Had something similar occurred in the UK, lawyers might have been looking at Section 17 of the Equality Act 2010 (pregnancy and maternity discrimination: non-work cases) to provide grounds for a legal challenge against the operators of a prison. Clearly, this sort of failure by the authorities to implement a basic duty of care could be viewed as blatant sex discrimination.

In 2019, would have been too difficult for the Denver County Jail authorities to have ensured that this particular inmate had access to to the appropriate medical facilities? Surely, given her condition, this was not asking too much?

Lawyers for Ms Sanchez are now, unsurprisingly, pursuing a civil action against Denver County Sheriff’s Department.

A link to the story as reported by Sky News can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/woman-who-gave-birth-alone-in-denver-prison-cell-files-lawsuit-11797438

Postscript

Lest we become judgemental about the US Penal system, on 4 October 2019, The Guardian reported that the new born child of an inmate at HM Prison Bronzefield in Surrey had died. The mother had been in an “advanced state” of pregnancy, but had been left alone in her cell overnight when she had given birth to the child.

A link to the story can be found below:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/oct/04/baby-dies-in-uk-prison-after-inmate-gives-birth-alone-in-cell

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 10 September and 4 October 2019

Tickets for “people of colour” … or the problem with positive discrimination

Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

Tickets for “people of colour” …

In a previous blog (The force is not with you … published on 28 February and updated on 10 June 2019), I discussed the problems associated with policies of positive discrimination.

So, it is with some interest that I read an item on Sky News today about Afrofuture Fest a music festival which was to take place in the American City of Detroit. The festival organisers had offered tickets for sale to members of the public. Absolutely nothing unusual in that readers will undoubtedly respond, but what was unusual was the fact that the price to be paid in conjunction with an ‘early bird’ promotion was to be determined by the customer’s racial origins (tickets for “people of colour”).

If you were an African American applying for tickets, you would pay less than a White American wanting to go to the gig. I admit that I was intrigued by this marketing approach and I wanted to know what were the underlying motivations of the organisers? I confess: I’m coming from a different cultural perspective here in the UK and, generally, we’re not too keen on the widespread use of positive discrimination as a tool for promoting equality.

Well, it would seem that the pricing policy was motivated by a genuine determination to ensure that African Americans (who happen to be in the disproportionately lower income section of US society) were not deterred from attending the event by high prices. Furthermore, the organisers wanted a racially diverse group of music fans to attend the festival.

All well meaning, but the event has now become mired in controversy with the organisers receiving threats from white supremacist groups and artists deciding not to perform. The ticket policy has now been scrapped.

A link to how the story was reported on Sky News can be found below:

Festival scraps cheaper ‘people of colour’ tickets after ‘white supremacist threats’
http://news.sky.com/story/festival-scraps-cheaper-people-of-colour-tickets-after-white-supremacist-threats-11758953

Positive discrimination: the legal position

Discriminating in favour of one group of people over another (whether this is motivated by a good intention or not) will most likely be regarded as an example of direct discrimination which contravenes Section 13 of the Equality Act 2010.

The judgement of the House of Lords in James v Eastleigh Borough Council [1990] 2 AC 751 was particularly strong on this point and it was irrelevant that the Council was acting from motives of good faith i.e. to promote healthier lifestyles for female residents of the Borough. The simple fact was that the Borough Council was acting unlawfully (in breach of the then Sex Discrimination Act 1975) when it charged men for entry to the swimming pool when women were not charged for access to this facility. The Borough Council had committed an act of direct, sex discrimination.

Positive discrimination has only really been successful in the UK when the Westminster Parliament has given it the full backing of the law and, additionally, it complies with this country’s EU legal obligations.

One notable example of positive discrimination is the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 which aimed to encourage more women to enter Parliament by having all women short lists. Previously, such an attempt to promote positive action would have been illegal under the (now repealed) Sex Discrimination Act 1975.  Some (male) Labour activists did, in fact, bring successful legal challenges under the former sex discrimination legislation on the grounds that they had suffered discrimination because of their gender in being automatically disqualified from the parliamentary candidates’ selection process (Jepson and Dyas-Elliott v The Labour Party and Others [1996] IRLR 116).

The other example of positive discrimination involves the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The PSNI was created in 2001 following the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The PSNI replaced the old Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) which was largely seen as a biased or sectarian police force by most Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland.

According to figures produced by the official Patten Report, the RUC was overwhelming Protestant in composition (91.7% to 8.3% Roman Catholic).

One of the key recommendations of the Patten Report was that:

“An equal number of Protestants and Catholics should be drawn from the pool of qualified candidates.” [para. 15.10]

This led to a deliberate 50/50 recruitment policy in which half of the candidates recruited to the PSNI had to come from a Roman Catholic background.

That said, there was significant criticism of the 50/50 recruitment policy coming from the Unionist and Loyalist community in Northern Ireland – who were never going to be reconciled to the demise of the RUC in any case. The recruitment policy was only ended in 2011 by Owen Patterson MP, the then Conservative Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Predictably, this development did not please the Nationalist and Republican community in Northern Ireland.

Affirmative or positive action

In the United States of America, of course, there is a completely different approach to the promotion of diversity and equality from what we would understand in the UK and the European Union. The Americans, for example, are very keen on affirmative action (or positive discrimination) and often employers will speak of filling quotas i.e. recruiting a certain number of African Americans or Hispanic Americans. This practice of affirmative action or positive discrimination is an attempt by the Americans to overcome the problems of historic and entrenched racism in their society. In the UK and the European Union, we too have had our problems with under-representation of certain groups in the work-place, but any attempt to introduce positive discrimination has been much more limited in scope.

Affirmative action has its limits: the ticket policy at Afrofuture Fest would, however, appear to be a breach of the Civil Rights Act 1964 (Title II) which states that:

“All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

The UK and EU approaches to positive discrimination

Limited positive action or discrimination has, for some time, been tolerated by the Court of Justice of the European Union where employers gave preference, as part of an equality policy, to female candidates over suitably qualified male candidates in order to address gender imbalances in the work-place (see Kalanke Freie Hansestadt Bremen (1995) C-450/93 and Badeck and Others (2000) C-158/97).

The Equality Act 2010 does, admittedly, permit what is referred to as ‘positive action’ in fairly limited circumstances and it has been observed that it does not really advance the law very much in this area.

Certainly, in terms of the public sector equality duty, organisations may be permitted to take specified forms positive action in the work-place to eradicate or minimise forms of discriminations e.g. ‘the need to tackle prejudice and promote understanding’ (see Section 149(5) of the Equality Act)

Section 158 of the Act permits an employer to take positive action to help individuals with a protected characteristic to overcome or minimise such a disadvantage. Such action on the part of the employer must, however, be a proportionate means of achieving this aim.

Section 159 also permits an employer to take positive action in recruitment and promotion in relation to people with protected characteristics. The employer will only really be able to utilise this provision if candidates for a job or a promoted post have the same or similar qualifications. In such situations, the employer will able to consider if candidates with protected characteristics are at a disadvantage or are under represented in matters of recruitment or promotion.

There is one important exception to the rules on positive action contained in the Act: it will not be illegal for an employer to treat a disabled person more favourably in comparison to a non-disabled person.

Conclusion

In the UK, positive discrimination in recruitment can be lawful under very limited circumstances. In other words, it is a practice which, if objectively justified, can be used to overcome historical patterns of discrimination e.g. to address the woefully low numbers of female politicians or the under-representation of Roman Catholics in the Police Service in Northern Ireland.

Such arrangements permitting limited positive discrimination tend to be governed by ‘sunset clauses’ i.e. they have a built in expiry date, so they will not last forever. Furthermore, positive discrimination is really only legitimate  in so called ‘tie-break’ situations where several applicants have the same qualifications and experience, but as a matter of public policy, for example, a female or minority ethnic applicant is given preference in order to address historic diversity imbalances in that particular work-place.

The Americans, on the other hand, have tended to pursue a very explicit policy of positive discrimination or affirmative action by placing an emphasis on the filling of quotas – either, for example, in employment or education. Such an approach places a legal obligation on employers and service providers (colleges and universities) to ensure that certain minimum numbers of people from racial or ethnic minority backgrounds are given a job or a place in training or education.

As we have seen with the ticket policy for events such as Afrofuture Fest, positive discrimination can be controversial and potentially unlawful.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 8 July 2019