Discrimination Against Employee Because of Her Marriage

In December 2007, the employee began her employment as technical services manager. The purpose of her appointment was that she could establish an office in the north of Britain. In September 2008, she went off sick. Later that month, the employer decided to shelve the northern office project. In October, the employee was informed of the proposal to remove her role and a consultation was started.

In February 2009, the employee resigned. She brought a claim in the employment tribunal for, among other things, sex discrimination (under s 3 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975) in that the employer had treated her less favourably because she was married to A, her husband. The tribunal held that the employee was not discriminated against on the ground of her status as a married person, but because of her relationship to D and, accordingly, the claim of direct discrimination failed.

The employee appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). Before the EAT, documents were referred to including statements from the employer's chief executive, M, to the effect that A had 'relentlessly harassed' him. Those statements further accused the employee of being aware of A's 'private commercial activities'. The principle issue to be determined was whether the Act applied to protect the employee, whose complaint was that she had been discriminated against on the ground of being married to A.

The appeal would be allowed.

It was held that any person who was married, or in a civil partnership, was protected against discrimination on the ground of that relationship and on the ground of their relationship to the other partner. Any less favourable treatment which was marriage-specific was unlawful.

In this case there could be no doubt as to a link between the employer's conduct, and the relationship between the employee and A. It was clear that the employer's officers had treated the employee the way they had (adversely) because of her relationship to A.


Nick Barnett

Published on 26/03/2012

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