Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Sex discrimination grounds?

Woman with hands crossed

Q.I am a female head of a secondary school. Both myself and a female deputy have been named in an employment tribunal as respondents, along with the governors and the local authority. The claim is sex discrimination. A teacher is alleging that the failure to short list her for a post was discrimination because she was pregnant. In fact there were an unusually high number of applicants for the post, many of whom were better qualified than she. Although the deputy and I accept responsibility for preparing the short list, we cannot understand why we should be named as respondents in the proceedings along with the governors and local authority. Although we are absolutely confident that we followed the correct procedures and there is no question of sex discrimination, we are concerned that if for some reason the tribunal finds for the teacher, our careers will be blighted.

A.Your concerns are perfectly understandable. The reason why individuals are frequently included as respondents in discrimination claims is because it is up to the employer to defend the claim on the basis that it had all the relevant policies, procedures and training in place to prevent discrimination but, nonetheless, the manager involved still acted in a discriminatory way. The typical example is the male manager who sexually harasses female staff. In those circumstances, the tribunal may well hold that the employer is not responsible but the individual is.

It is clear from the facts of your case that there is no question of either you or the deputy harassing the employee in question and it does therefore appear unreasonable for you to continue to be named respondents. Your legal counsel can make representations on your behalf, prior to the claim coming before the tribunal. Alternatively the employee could be cross-examined at the tribunal hearing regarding her motives in insisting that you are named representatives (possibly to put pressure on all of you to settle).

The tribunal panel will be fully aware of the consequences to individuals of having a finding of an act of discrimination against them and it is highly unlikely, given the facts of the case, that they will be prepared to make such a judgment.

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