Sex discrimination evident in many industries – including legal

Sex discrimination evident in many industries – including legal

A female lawyer who had been described as a ‘ballbreaker’ has won a sex discrimination case after discovering that her male counterpart was being paid more than she was. She was also denied flexible working and deliberately set up to fail by being assigned too much work to do.

The background and key parts of the judgment are discussed below. What stands out for us is how different women are still perceived compared to their male counterparts. As what describes an ambitious, go-getting man worth of a promotion or a salary raise is considered a flaw and unfeminine trait that is often used as a reason to justify the lack of career progression

Is it an unconscious bias or fear of what women will achieve or a commercial decision to maintain lower costs? Whatever it is, the industry and the workplace need to embrace gender equality.

Helena Biggs who is a shipping specialist, brought claims of sex discrimination, victimisation and harassment against her employer, insurance firm A Bilborough & Company Ltd. She had worked there for more than 13 years.

Interestingly, it was heard at the employment tribunal that, Ms Biggs had been labelled the “enforcer” as she had to address underperforming staff members but had been paid less than her male colleague for 5 years when they had both been promoted to associate director.

In addition to being described as ‘pushy’, there were references to her being ‘overly dominant’ and ‘incredibly ambitious’ by bosses. It was held by the employment tribunal that these were negative statements about her drive and hard work and such judgements which would not be made of a man. It is a sad state that a career driven man is respected whereas a female who shows the same drive is considered too aggressive.

Employment Judge Jones ruled that a claims director at the company had used sexist language when he referred to Ms Biggs as ‘pushy’ during a discussion regarding bringing key performance indicators into the business and that it was ‘highly unlikely’ that a man displaying the same level of eagerness would be described the same way.

Upon discovering that she was experiencing a pay gap compared to her male colleague, when a complaint was made about this Ms Biggs was warned that she was in danger of scoring an 'own goal' and she was better off leaving it alone.

As part of her case, Ms Biggs also brought complaints that she had witnesses sexist behaviour from male bosses at the firm she joined in 2003. A director of the firm had remarked to a female colleague to 'keep her legs shut' after Ms Biggs had said she was going on maternity leave and suggested on another occasion that she 'looked like a dyke'.

The tribunal found Ms Biggs was discouraged from seeking a role on an industry sub-committee when all her peers had been encouraged, a response ‘more than likely’ because of her gender. She was also told that a request to work from home would ‘set a precedent’, while male colleagues’ similar requests had been approved.

Ms Biggs was dismissed from the firm in January 2018 and this followed a staff survey that had been conducted by a director whilst she was on sick leave that indicated she was unwelcome back in the office due to her relationship with the directors and other staff members had broken down.

The East London Employment Tribunal found that Ms Biggs had been unfairly dismissed and had been the victim of sex discrimination, victimisation, and harassment. Sex discrimination is unlawful. This is where you are treated differently because of your sex, as was in the case of Helena Biggs. This is covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Such discriminatory treatment could be a one-off action, a number of actions or could be caused by a rule or policy.

The Equality Act 2010 says that you must not be discriminated against because you are (or are not) a particular sex. There are 4 main types of sex discrimination and these are:

Direct discrimination – this is when you are treated worse than someone of the opposite sex who is in a similar situation.

  1. Indirect discrimination – this is when an organisation has a particular policy or way of working that applies in the same way to both sexes, but which puts you at a disadvantage because of your sex.
  2. Harassment – this is when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended, or degraded because of your sex.
  3. Victimisation – this is when you are treated badly because you have made a complaint of sex related discrimination under the Equality Act. It can also occur when you are supporting someone else who has made a complaint of sex discrimination.

We need to work together to break down these barriers of equality and welcome diverse workforce. If you think you have been treated unfairly due to your sex then please contact our firm and one of our experienced employment lawyers will be ready to advise you on this area of law and how best to proceed.

Author: Matthew Chandler A City Law Firm