Is suing your boss really worth the risk? This is a question that former firearms officer Carol Howard may wish she had asked herself before embarking on a sex and race discrimination claim against her former employer, the Metropolitan police. For her it was a victory, yes, but also a hard lesson learnt.
Ms Howard, a black woman, was employed as a firearms officer assigned to the Met's diplomatic protection division. Out of a total of 700 officers in this division, only 12 were women and only she was black. The Tribunal commented that these figures alone were "alarming", women and officers of ethnic origin being completely under represented. During the course of the Tribunal hearing, Ms Howard was successfully able to prove that her line manager's personal antipathy towards her emanated from his negative perception of women and black people generally, believing them to be dishonest and untrustworthy. The Tribunal could find no evidence to substantiate such groundless beliefs and ruled that the division's refusal to consider her two requests for flexible working arrangements (while granting a single request from a white male counterpart) was clear evidence that she had been treated less favourably on the grounds of her sex and race.
Coupled with the division's refusal to use Ms Howard's face in a photo campaign highlighting the role of Britain's officers during the Olympics 2012, this was discrimination in its most direct form. The Met's assertion that she was "not a good advert" for the force which is "an almost exclusively male white unit" only compounded the Judge's fears that discrimination was rife within the Met. The only conclusion that the Tribunal could arrive at was one of unfair treatment based on sex and colour of skin. None of the conduct to which Ms Howard had been subjected could be justified, or followed any sound basis; her claim had to succeed.
In a rather damning judgment, Judge Grewal advised the Met to appoint an independent body to undertake a thorough review of its internal policies and procedures to ensure "fairness at work". In a later hearing, Ms Howard was awarded financial damages plus interest. So, is this really a great example of justice being served?
In truth, despite her success, Ms Howard has been left wondering whether it was all worth it. The compensatory award of £37,000 has done little to accommodate her sizeable legal bill, the significant distress that she suffered at the hands of her "malicious and vindictive" line manager, or the barrage of victimisation that she endured once her claim had been issued. In her own words, after two gruelling years of discrimination and victimisation at the hands of the Met, her victory is "not a cause for celebration"; she is still fighting to clear her name, still suffering with stress exacerbated by the whole Tribunal process and left wondering whether her plight has in fact hindered her future career.
In a recent television interview, Ms Howard was asked whether she would go through it all again; in other words, was the overall result worth it? Although she wasn't prepared to be drawn one way or another, she did make it clear that litigation is not by any means a pleasant experience and warned would-be claimants to think carefully and do their research before suing the boss. Sometimes the stress of litigation can be worse that the experience suffered at work; you can end up paying more in legal fees than you receive in damages (that's if your claim is even successful) and employment claims should not be damaging to a career but in reality, employers are less inclined to take on those individuals who might be viewed as 'difficult'. Her resounding advice was "don't do it just to try and prove a point"; avoid suing on principal alone - there is often far more at stake.
If you are contemplating issuing a discrimination claim against your employer (or any other employment related grievance), or whether you are a business currently facing accusations of less favourable treatment, please do not hesitate to give us a call before you embark on a course of action that you could later come to regret.
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