Lawyer wins gay discrimination claim against law firm

Bivonas LLP v. Bennett

03 February 2012

An Employment Appeal Tribunal has upheld that law firm Bivonas LLP discriminated against lawyer Mr Bennett on the basis of sexual orientation. The Equality and Human Rights Commission funded Mr Bennett’s defence against the law firm’s appeal.

The lawyer’s discrimination claim focused on a memo from one of the firm’s partners. It falsely implied that Mr Bennett only selected gay barristers and said he should be sacked. After lodging a grievance, Mr Bennett says the firm tried to intimidate him into withdrawing his claim.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed that the content of the memo was “a professional slur of the utmost gravity”. It also agreed that the conduct of his grievance was discriminatory.

The tribunal considered if a ‘reasonable’ worker would think the memo had put them at a disadvantage. It decided that other people would have been insulted if the memo had been about them.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal found no evidence that heterosexual men had been insulted in the same way as Mr Bennett for being gay. Nor could the law firm provide justification for treating Mr Bennett differently to other employees.

John Wadham, Group Director Legal, Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

“Homophobia will not be tolerated in the workplace or anywhere else. We funded Mr Bennett’s defence and this win has set a precedent for discrimination law.”

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

Mr Bennett issued a discrimination claim under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. The Equality Act 2010 now incorporates this law.

The definition of unlawful discrimination in s39(2)(d) of the Equality Act 2010 says that an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee by subjecting them to any detriment.

The Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that Binovas discriminated against Mr Bennett on the ground of sexual orientation. Bivonas lost its argument on appeal that the Employment Tribunal was wrong to say that an insult is a detriment.

The Equality and Human Rights 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 reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.