Heterosexuality

Employment Law – Discrimination on the Grounds of Heterosexuality

 

A female heterosexual member of door staff at a gay nightclub has been awarded damages after she was harassed by her co-workers. In this landmark decision, Sharon Legg, who was employed by Dreams bar in Bournemouth, won compensation after relying on legislation put in place to predominately protect the rights of gay, lesbian and bi-sexual people from harassement.

Legg, aged 33, brought a claim stating that fellow door staff had refused to follow her orders and generally made her work very difficult. In June 2006, one month after she was promoted to head of security, she was unexpectedly sacked.

Legg's legal counsel relied on the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations Act 2003 in order to win the case. Subsequently, Legg was awarded £3,000 for injured feelings and the tribunal also ruled that she was unfairly dismissed. In respect of the unfair dismissal she was awarded a further £3,222.

Despite this decision, the tribunal was of the opinion that she was not sacked due to her heterosexuality.

This is a slightly unusual case in that it demonstrates the extent of the scope of protection provided under equality legislation in the UK. Under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 (“the Regulations”) protection is provided against discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation. It was held that the Regulations apply equally to members of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and heterosexual community.

A similar example of legislation protecting both minorities and majorities from discrimination can be found in the Employment Equality Age Regulations 2006 which were introduced in October 2006 and provide protection against discrimination for employees of all ages.

It is also interesting to note that this case is not the first *time that anti-discrimination laws have led to a result which is out of the ordinary. In the case of Redfearn v Serco (Trading as West Yorkshire Transport Services UK) [2005], the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) came to the decision that an employee that worked for Serco but had also been elected as a BNP Councillor could rely on the Race Relations Act 1976 for protection.

In that case Redfern was summarily dismissed by his employer. The employer argued that the dismissal was due to health and safety reasons following the employee’s election as a BNP councillor. His dismissal was on the grounds that Asian colleagues that he had had contact with in his job would be upset and potentially hostile towards him.

The EAT held that Redfearn had been discriminated against on racial grounds and that the 1976 Act provided him with legal protection. Unfortunately, however, the Redfern EAT decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2006 citing that the EAT’s interpretation was deemed inconsistent with the purposes of the legislation.

There is unlikely to be a flood of similar cases to Legg’s, despite the decision that was made. It is the first case in which the Regulations have been used to the benefit of a heterosexual in claiming discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. Finally, it is interesting to note that even though it appears logical that protection under such legislation should be provided to individuals of all sexualities, that issue is yet to be discussed in the higher courts.

If you require further information please contact us at enquiries@rtcoopers.com or Visit http://www.rtcoopers.com/practice_employment.php

© RT COOPERS, 2008. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.

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