20 July 2020 by Leanne Good

Sex discrimination – still a very real issue in the workplace in 2020

A female solicitor dubbed “overly dominant” and “pushy” suffered sex discrimination by her employer, the Employment Tribunal has decided.

The case: Ms HE Biggs v A Bilborough & Company Ltd and others: 3201280/2017 and 3200123/2018

Solicitor Helena Biggs successfully brought claims for unfair dismissal, direct sex discrimination, victimisation and harassment under the Equality Act 2010 against London insurance firm A Bilborough & Company Ltd.  She also succeeded in claims against individual directors, who can be held personally liable for acts of discrimination.

The case involved many instances of alleged discrimination over a period of over 10 years. In summary:

  • Directors made derogatory comments about women, including that they should “keep their legs closed” (a reference to pregnancy) and suggested on another occasion that Ms Biggs’ friendship with a female client might be because the client was a lesbian;
  • Ms Biggs was described by directors  as “overly dominant”, “pushy”  and  “incredibly ambitious”, comments that the Employment Tribunal found were negative and “highly unlikely” to have been made about a man displaying the same level of eagerness at work;
  • The Employment Tribunal also condemned that Ms Biggs was invited to “use her charms” to persuade a colleague do some work;
  • When Ms Biggs complained that she had been groped by a male solicitor at a client lunch, her concerns were not taken seriously by her employer;
  • Ms Biggs was given a larger and more demanding workload than her male colleagues. She argued that this “amounted to an excessive and impossible workload… put together because of her gender and to create an oppressive environment for her”;
  • Her requests to work from home were denied on the basis that this would “set a precedent” while male colleagues had similar requests approved;
  • Ms Biggs was paid less than her male colleagues and discouraged from challenging this;
  • Ms Biggs raised a grievance about her treatment. Her employer largely dismissed her complaints and instead concluded that her relationship with directors and other staff had broken down. Ultimately, her employer dismissed her because of this.

Ms Biggs claimed she was “victimised and targeted”, being unfairly criticised, overburdened and losing out on promotion and training opportunities. The Employment Tribunal found in her favour.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case and Ms Biggs is not alone in experiencing sex discrimination at work. Since the Equal Pay Act was introduced over 50 years ago, women in the UK are still earning on average 19% less than men (Office of National Statistics 2019).

Government statistics show that in 2019 there was a staggering 69% increase in claims for sex discrimination at the Employment Tribunal. Of those claims, 90% that proceeded to Final Hearing were won by the employee.

How we can help

This most recent case and statistics from the Employment Tribunal show that sex discrimination in the workplace is a very real issue.

At Bolt Burdon we have a long and proven track record of acting for senior female executives, in both the private and public sector, who have experienced less favourable treatment because of their gender. We also work proactively with employers, putting in place fair policies coupled with sound advice to foster good employee relations and encourage equality and diversity in the workplace.

If you feel that you have been the victim of sex discrimination at work, or are an employer needing advice in this area, please contact Bolt Burdon.

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