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18th January 2021

‘Good intentions’ held not to be a defence against indirect discrimination claim

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The case of Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police v Town serves as a useful reminder for employers to consider the impact of applying broad policies to their workforce. The EAT confirmed that the automatic transfer of a pregnant officer from an operational to a non-operational role, which caused her stress, was pregnancy discrimination and indirect sex discrimination.

When the claimant informed her line manager that she was pregnant, a risk assessment was undertaken which indicated that she could remain in her response team if she was placed on restricted duties, which the claimant was happy with. This was ignored by Devon and Cornwall police because they had a general policy that officers on restricted duties would be transferred to the crime management hub. The new role and removal from a supportive working environment caused the claimant stress, anxiety and migraines. The Employment Tribunal (ET) found that the police had discriminated against the claimant on grounds of pregnancy and indirectly on grounds of her sex, on the basis that women were more susceptible to enforced transfer from operational to non-operational roles under the policy because pregnancy would lead to application of the policy.

The police appealed the ET’s decision, arguing that the treatment was removing her from danger and thus was not unfavorable, but also that any disadvantage was suffered by pregnant women and not women in general. The EAT found that the treatment was not that the claimant had been removed from danger, but that she was transferred against her wishes, making her ill – the EAT held that this was unfavorable treatment, and it was because she was pregnant. The EAT also held that it was not necessary that all women suffered from the disadvantage if women as a group were more likely to be subject to an enforced transfer because of the policy.

For more information on any of the items raised in this article please contact a member of our Employment Law Team.