Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Discrimination case against single mother

The recent case of a female soldier and single mother (Ministry of Defence v DeBique (EAT 2009)) who won a case for discrimination attracted a great many column inches and some unfavourable comparisons between the award she was claiming and the amount that a soldier crippled in Afghanistan would be entitled to.

This obscured the actual basis of the case. For example, the tribunal did not decide that the army could not insist that single mother soldiers be available 24/7.

On the contrary, though this was clearly discriminatory, in that male soldiers were unlikely to find themselves in the same dilemma, the tribunal concluded that an efficient unit was a legitimate purpose and it could insist that the unit was available 24/7. It was therefore justified.

Where the army went wrong was in recruiting foreign and Commonwealth soldiers and then failing to make arrangements that would enable them to be available 24/7 when it was foreseeable that some would be single mothers.

Whereas British single mothers could bring a relative to stay in quarters to care for their children, the army had failed to arrange with the Home Office that immigration could be granted so that a relative could come over and stay with the child.

There are several lessons to be learned here. One is the importance of being able to justify discriminatory provisions criteria or practices. Another is the wide range covered by the category 'race'. It includes, as in this case, national origin. Then it is a reminder that when discrimination is proved, the cap comes off potential awards.

Incidentally, Ms DeBique received 17,000 as an award. She had asked for 1,142,000 plus interest. Therefore, the case is also a warning not to believe everything in the popular, and not so popular, press.

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