Victory for pregnant women in the armed forces

03 June 2010

Pregnant women in the armed forces will be given greater protection from discrimination after a ruling by the Employment Tribunal.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission funded the case brought by a female officer against the Royal Air Force in which she claimed she was removed from her job and had her promotion prospects delayed because she was pregnant.

The Tribunal found that the officer had been discriminated against and awarded her more than £16,000. 

Law firm Leigh Day & Co represented the officer who was on a posting in the Falkland Islands when she informed her superiors that she was 12 weeks pregnant. Her request to stay on in her desk-based job was denied despite her husband, who was also a RAF officer, being based on the Island and she was ordered to return to the UK immediately.

As she wanted to be with her husband during her pregnancy she was forced to take leave to return to the Falkland Islands. This meant she missed out on a performance review which delayed her promotion prospects.  

The Tribunal ruled that the Air Force had discriminated against the officer because of her pregnancy and awarded her more than £16,000. They said the way she had been treated by the Air Force “had the effect of creating an intimidating, degrading, hostile or offensive environment for her”, though this was not intentional on their part.

The Tribunal also recommended that the Ministry of Defence:

  • carry out an individual risk assessment for each pregnant woman and consider adjusting her role to enable her to remain in her post,
  • establish a monitoring process in respect of any removal of a pregnant woman from her post; and
  • undertake a performance appraisal for each pregnant woman commencing maternity leave.

John Wadham, Group Director Legal, said:

“The Commission’s research has shown that pregnant women are the most discriminated group of people in the workforce, with 30,000 losing their jobs each year as a result of their pregnancy.

“Larger employers such as the Ministry of Defence should be leading the way in showing other organisations how to treat their pregnant workers. This judgment should serve as a reminder of what is expected of employers in these situations.”

Ends

For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to Editors

Elizabeth George and Camilla Palmer from Leigh Day & Co represented the officer.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act.  It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.