Historical LGBT Employment Cases and their Significance

Nicola Mullineux

Nicola Mullineux

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04 Feb 2019

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When the Equality Act 2010 was introduced it ensured LGBT individuals were not discriminated against in the workplace.

That wasn’t always the case, however…

In this article, we take a look at some of the major cases that shaped employment law on LGBT issues, and how they continue to change and evolve.

Let’s begin with the most recent:

McMahon v Redwood

In this case a lesbian employee was told to keep her sexuality hidden from colleagues and the business owner by the managing director.

The reason for this was reportedly because she was the only gay employee in the organisation and the business owner was ‘old school’.

Initially McMahon complied as she was fearful that going against the managing director’s instructions would damage her career and employment.

It was only when she was made redundant after eight months of employment that she decided to take legal action.

McMahon told the tribunal that the demand made her feel “odd and uncomfortable” despite the managing director denying that he told her not to disclose her sexuality.

Ultimately the tribunal found in favour of McMahon’s version of events, stating that she had been “discriminated against on the grounds of her sexual orientation,” as she had been “less favourably treated by being asked not to disclose her sexuality by comparison with a hypothetical person not sharing her protected characteristic.”

The case will likely be referred back to in cases of a similar nature, particularly regarding disclosing sexual orientation.

Ladele v London Borough of Islington

Prior to the implementation of the Equality Act 2010, a case involving religious discrimination came to the Court of Appeal on 15th December 2009.

The case was a result of the introduction of civil partnerships in December 2005, as there was an immediate clash between employees who held strong Christian beliefs in the sanctity of marriage and those wishing to have a civil partnership.

In this case, a Christian registrar claimed religious discrimination as she was disciplined and threatened with dismissal after refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.

Initially, when taken to tribunal they held that Ladele had been both directly and indirectly discriminated against, as well as harassed. However, the Employment Appeals Tribunal reversed the decision.

Following this, Ladele appealed to the Court of Appeal which upheld the previous decision that she was not discriminated against, and was required to perform a purely secular task.

The stance that her religion was not the cause of discrimination because her role required her to provide a non-discriminatory service is one that has been adopted by cases since.

Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v Maxwell

Finally, a former-counter terrorism officer who worked for Scotland Yard raised concerns about racist and homophobic behaviour by some of his colleagues in 2012.

The tribunal found that Maxwell experienced multiple cases of degrading and humiliating treatment from his fellow officers. A number of jokes and slurs were made in Maxwell’s presence, all of which were greeted with laughter and encouragement.

Maxwell also claimed to have experienced racial profiling, in particular when white officers would encourage him to stop and search other black people, claiming “blacks don’t complain about blacks.”

After bringing his concerns about this type of behaviour to his superiors, he was either ignored or punished as a result, with one chief inspector saying “that’s life” in response.

Ultimately Maxwell was sacked for whistleblowing and ‘gross misconduct’.

This experience left Maxwell financially ruined and suffering from severe depression.

Eventually, in 2015, Mr. Maxwell was awarded compensation, including damages for personal injury, injury to feelings, and aggravated damages.

So what’s the verdict?

What do these cases show? Although years apart, they all demonstrate that individuals with protected characteristics experience discrimination and intolerance regardless of the legislation in place to protect them. Bigotry can still thrive in the wrong atmosphere.

Having policies in place isn’t enough to ensure your employees are protected against discrimination, it is important to cultivate a culture of tolerance, inclusivity and acceptance.

Providing diversity training is one way of exposing everyone in the organisation to minority groups, but it can also have a negative impact as well, as some individuals may feel ‘targeted’ and it may encourage the use of unhelpful stereotypes.

Leading by example is the best way to remain inclusive, and ensures individuals experiencing harassment or bullying due to their sexual orientation feel comfortable approaching you for assistance.

Being outspoken, encouraging inclusivity, and including LGBT specific policies in your employee handbook, contracts and policies are all ways of cultivating that positive atmosphere.

Need assistance?

If you need help with any employment or HR issues, contact a Croner expert today for guidance and support, on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Nicola Mullineux

Nicola Mullineux, as Group Content Manager, leads a team of employment law content writers who produce guidance and commentary on employment law, case law and key HR developments. She has written articles for national publications for over 10 years and regularly helps to shape employment of the future by taking part in Government consultations on employment law change.

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Nicola Mullineux

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