January 14, 2020
Businesses in which women are under-represented in senior roles invite speculation that the imbalance results from discriminatory sexual stereotyping. A case in the context of the banking sector highlights, Employment Tribunals (ETs) are required to base their decisions not on perception but hard evidence.
Outline of the case
The case concerned a female vice-president who worked in a multinational bank’s compliance department. She claimed that she had been passed over for a promotion due to her sex. Her sex discrimination and harassment claims were upheld by an ET, largely on the basis that a senior manager’s decision to appoint a male external candidate to the role was as a result of sexual stereotyping.
In its decision, the ET noted that, while men in the workplace may be praised for their ambition, forceful personalities and commitment to their jobs, women in the same position can be criticised for their obsession with work.
A further common stereotype is that women are more divisive, causing toxic relations by becoming too emotionally involved in office politics. Sexual imbalance in senior positions also tends to be perpetuated by the propensity of men to prefer the views and qualities of other men.
Outcome of the case
In upholding the bank’s challenge to the ET’s decision the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) noted that the women’s pleaded case did not state that the manager’s decisions were based on stereotypical sexual assumptions. That suggestion was not the focus of evidence in the case and had been raised for the first time in the ET’s ruling. The bank and its witnesses had been deprived of any fair opportunity to respond to the claim. The woman’s sex discrimination and harassment claims were sent back to a new ET for reconsideration.
The EAT went on to dismiss the bank’s challenge to the ET’s finding that the woman had suffered maternity leave discrimination as a result of assumptions made as to what women should be doing whilst on maternity leave. She had been discouraged from attending a quarterly review meeting. She was side-lined in her absence with significant elements of her job being passed to another employee. There had been no real intention to reinstate those aspects of her work on her return.
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Commerzbank AG v Rajput. UKEAT/0164/18