Charlotte's direct sex discrimination case

Content / trigger warning

We always try our best to give users the facts of each case, some of which include harmful language and descriptions of awful behaviour. This case might be emotionally challenging to read, especially if you’re going through something similar. This can manifest feelings of discomfort and upset, among other unpleasant emotions. We encourage you to reach out to friends or family for additional support if this content is particularly distressing. These stories are not for shock value, but to give you a sense of how you could be successful. We are here to support you in your journey in fighting back against your toxic workplace.

Direct sex discrimination at work

Direct sex discrimination is when you are treated less favourably because of your sex than someone who is the opposite sex in a similar workplace situation.

An example of direct discrimination because of your sex at work would be:

A female accounts manager is denied the opportunity to apply to become a senior manager because her employer thinks her childcare duties would get in the way.

There have been numerous Employment Tribunal cases that make a claim for direct sex discrimination. We’ll look at one such claim below.

The background

This case was brought against a cafe after Charlotte was hired as Front of House staff for one month before resigning due to discrimination.

When she was hired, Charlotte had been told that the work uniform consisted of a black shirt, black trousers, and black shoes. After impressing the owners of the cafe with her work, she was promoted to a managerial position during an informal meeting.

During this meeting, she was told that she would become the new face of the cafe and that she would be required to wear a skirt. Charlotte had been uncomfortable with the change in uniform, as well as other comments that were made about her hair and “being light on her feet”.

The owners of the cafe then purchased a new blouse for her to wear as part of her uniform changes. Charlotte was uncomfortable with the sizing of the blouse as it was “too low cut and too tight”. She had complained to her employer and asked if she could have a larger size, to which he responded that it was good to show “a bit of cleavage” and told her “not to be a prude”.

She was also told on one occasion that she should wear red lipstick and “tart herself up a bit”. She felt embarrassed and uncomfortable at the comments. The working relationship continued to deteriorate until her employers decided to terminate her employment. The main reason being her refusal to wear her uniform.

Charlotte ultimately brought claims for direct sex discrimination, victimisation due to sex, dismissal on the grounds of a protected characteristic, as well as unlawful deduction from wages after she hadn’t been paid a promised promotion bonus and raise.

The result

Her claims for victimisation due to sex and dismissal on the ground of a protected characteristic failed. The victimisation claim failed as Charlotte had not actually challenged her employer about his behaviour, by her own admission.

However, her claims for direct sex discrimination and unlawful deduction from wages succeeded.

The Tribunal decided that her required outfit was considered “skimpy and inappropriate”, and it was clear that a male employee would not have been required to wear a similar uniform.

Her unlawful deduction of wages claim also succeeded as the Tribunal found that she had been short-changed both her promotion bonus and raise.

She was awarded £7,489.56 for her direct sex discrimination claim as well as £412.20 for unlawful deduction of her wages.

Important things to remember about this case

All employees have day one rights, including the rights around wages as well as rights against being discriminated against due to a protected characteristic. Charlotte did not have to work two years in the cafe to bring these claims and win in a Tribunal.

Get the free toolkit

Learn how to identify your leverage, build a solid argument, review your options and resolve your employment issue.

Do you have a story like this?

Show people being treated unfairly at work that they're not alone, and what others did in similar situations.

Share your story to help others like you.

Share your story