Three interesting cases of discrimination in the UK

It is against the law to treat someone less favourably because of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or age; this is discrimination. However, more than 25% of the workers in the UK claim to have been discriminated against at work. Discrimination is not just isolated to the workplace and can occur across most aspects of our day to day lives.

A recent study published by the Financial Times has shown an increase in disability discrimination cases being brought to employment tribunals. Workers are increasingly deciding to stand up against discriminatory behaviour by challenging their employers, businesses and entire organisations in court or at employment tribunals.

Here are three unusual examples of tribunal cases that demonstrate the different forms discrimination can take.


1.  Police officer’s perceived disability

A police offer with no disability won a claim for direct disability discrimination. Ms Coffey, a female police officer, applied for a transfer from Wiltshire Constabulary to Norfolk Constabulary. Whilst Ms Coffey did experience some hearing loss and tinnitus, it did not affect her ability to do her job effectively. It was also not considered a disability under the Equality Act. However, Ms Coffey’s transfer application was denied as the constabulary believed that her hearing would deteriorate in the future and would impact on her ability to perform her duties. This perception was found by both an employment tribunal and the Court of Appeal to be direct disability discrimination. The constabulary had acted based on stereotypical assumptions about Ms Coffey’s ability in the future to do her job. Ms Coffey was awarded £26,616.05 in compensation.

2.  School’s suspension of teacher with bipolar

A tribunal ruled that a teacher with bipolar disorder was discriminated against when his employer continued to suspend him despite evidence that he was medically fit to work. Mr Day-Davis, a humanities teacher for the United Learning Trust had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After he was suspended for being unfit to work, Mr Day-Davis focused on ensuring he made a quick recovery. However, despite getting proof from his GP and a psychologist that he was fit to go back to work, the trust rejected this evidence and continued to suspend him. The employment tribunal agreed that the trust had been correct with their initial suspension of the teacher; however, rejecting recommendations from quality health professionals was not a fair course of action. The tribunal ruled that this was a classic example of disability discrimination.

3.  Male drinker denied beer unless he identified as a woman

A small claims court ruled that a brewery was guilty of sexual discrimination after a man was only able to buy a specific beer if he identified as a woman. When Dr Brewer attempted to purchase a £4 bottle of Pink IPA beer, he was refused because he was male. The brewery had renamed some of its bottles of Punk IPA beer to Pink IPA to, rather ironically, raise awareness of the gender pay gap. These beers were a pound cheaper and part of the brewery’s ‘Beer for Girls’ campaign. Dr Bower was told, to buy one you had to be a woman but when he told the barman he identified as a female, he was then permitted to purchase one. After complaining to the brewery but not getting a satisfactory response, Dr Bower took his complaint to the small claims court. He was awarded £1,000 in compensation, after a judge agreed that he had been unfairly treated because of his gender. Dr Bower donated his money to charity. He said: “After taking into account my costs, I donated equal amounts of this award to the Young Women’s Trust, which aims to help women negotiate for better pay, and the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which runs a male suicide prevention line, among other things.”

Further HR Guidance

The word ‘discrimination’ is often used on a day to day basis to describe being treated unfairly for a particular reason; but unlawful discrimination happens when less favourable or unfair treatment relates to specific characteristics, known legally as ‘protected characteristics’. The UK have nine protected characteristics, which are set out in the Equality Act 2010. These are:  Age, Disability, Gender Reassignment, Marriage and Civil Partnership, Pregnancy and Maternity, Race, Religion or Belief, Sex and Sexual Orientation.

The following resources offer further guidance on discrimination: 

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