Beware the hidden depths of sex discrimination

Anthea Christie – one of our employment law specialists in London – has been reading about a recent sex discrimination case in Belfast that should be of interest to employers and jobseekers alike.

Nuala Crilly, from Londonderry, claimed indirect sex discrimination after she failed to get a job with an urban regeneration project. Ballymagroarty Hazelbank Community Partnership advertised for a Neighbourhood Regeneration Officer.  The essential criterion for the position was a ‘third level qualification in a relevant discipline with two years’ relevant experience in a community development capacity (paid) gained within the last five years’.

Ms Crilly applied for the post in October 2010, and was not short-listed because her paid experience was prior to the five year period required. She had taken a six-year career break from paid work due to her child-caring responsibilities. But, during that time, she’d gained extensive, high-level, voluntary involvement in community development and neighbourhood regeneration. By not being short-listed, she was denied the chance to outline at interview how these activities made her a suitable candidate for the job. She argued that the criterion applied by the partnership amounted to indirect sex discrimination.

The tribunal found that it created a ‘disproportionate adverse impact on females’ because a vastly larger percentage of women than men are away from work to look after family.  It would therefore preclude more women than men from successfully applying. The tribunal found that the criterion was not justified, upheld Ms Crilly’s claim and awarded her £11,677 for loss of earnings and injury to feelings.

As the main qualification criterion applied equally to men and women, the employers could be forgiven for thinking that they were ‘in the clear’ with regard to any allegations of discrimination. But, as this case shows, discrimination might only become apparent when a diligent employment lawyer drills down to a deeper level. It would also have benefited the partnership to have taken professional advice on the wording of their recruitment advertisement.

And, if they don’t draw upon the expertise of a skilled employment lawyer, people like Ms Crilly might remain ignorant of their true legal position. Frustrated by apparent unfairness, but unable to do much about it.

Remarkably in the period 2001 – 2011 only 2% of sex discrimination claims were actually successful at tribunal.



Anthea Christie, Employment, Marcus Weatherby,
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