Emilia's direct sexual orientation discrimination claim

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Direct sexual orientation discrimination at work

Direct sexual orientation discrimination is where you are treated less favourably at work because of your sexual orientation.

An example of direct sexual orientation discrimination at work would be:

After disclosing his sexual orientation to a colleague, a teacher is denied the ability to attend a conference due to his colleague feeling uncomfortable travelling with him.

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

The background

This case was brought against a fabric manufacturer. Emilia was hired as a quality manager from May 2017 to December 2017, when she was made redundant.

During her first week of employment, she disclosed to her manager that she was a lesbian. She was told to keep it quiet as the company did not have any other LBGT+ people working for them and more specifically, the owner was described as being “old school”.

Her sexuality allegedly came up twice during her employment. Once when her manager had told her to remove her radio although other staff members were allowed to keep theirs. She had challenged him, asking if this was due to her sexuality, to which he denied.

The second was when she told her manager she would not be attending the Christmas party due to being uncomfortable about talking to her colleagues about her personal life given she was not allowed to talk about being a lesbian. She was then told that she had to pay for her ticket as the number of attendees had already been confirmed.

The business had been suffering throughout Emilia’s employment. She alleged that the business had been sending out inferior quality products, which she flagged to her manager. They ultimately came to an agreement on how this should be handled.

While this was happening, she had been told by her manager that it was expected of her to come 15 minutes early and leave 15 minutes later to her shift. She had issues with this as she had a son that required care during these extra times.

However, the business still continued to suffer when they made the decision that some form of staff reduction was needed. Emilia was made redundant during this time.

Emilia ultimately brought on claims for automatic unfair dismissal for a health and safety reason, automatic unfair dismissal for making a protected disclosure, indirect sex discrimination and direct sexual orientation discrimination.

The result

Her automatic unfair dismissal claim for health and safety reasons failed as the Tribunal found that the inferior products were still within an acceptable safety range that posed no risk while using them. Due to this, her claim for automatic unfair dismissal for making a protected disclosure failed as well.

Her indirect sex discrimination failed as well. While the business required her to work 15 minutes earlier and later than her stated shift might have been indirectly discriminatory to working mothers who are generally in charge of childcare, the Tribunal found that Emilia was actually working the required hours with no detriment to her childcare abilities.

Her claim for direct sexual orientation discrimination was successful. The Tribunal found that because she was specifically told not to disclose her sexuality, this amounted to discrimination as a heterosexual employee would be allowed to disclose their sexuality at work.

Emilia was awarded a total of £9,244.93, including interest.

Important things to remember about this case

While Emilia’s manager had sought to protect her from the owner’s possible discrimination based on her sexual orientation, this was still discriminatory as she was then forced to hide it at work. While employees are not required to share any personal information if they don’t want to, they should not be disallowed from discussing their personal life if they want to.

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