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
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
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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The Ministry of Human Resources has recently issued a string of new ministerial resolutions and decrees designed to address gaps in the employment regulatory framework and reinforce existing legislation...
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