Euro equality directive forces gay rights issue

Employers must ensure homosexual members of staff do not suffer abuse
because of their sexual orientation despite a recent Court of Appeal ruling
that dismissed a lesbian teacher’s claim for sex discrimination.

The court ruled that the homophobic abuse from pupils suffered by teacher
Shirley Pearce at Mayfield School, in Portsmouth, did not amount to sex
discrimination because the abuse centred on her sexual orientation and not her
gender. It was therefore outside the remit of the 1975 Sexual Discrimination
Act.

But law firm Allen & Overy is warning employers that a European
framework directive on equal treatment, due to become law in the UK in December
2003, will mean policies will need to be in place to protect gay members of
staff from harassment based on their sexual orientation.

Employers will have to be careful not to place staff in environments where
they are likely to be abused for their sexual orientation. They will also have
to take action to prevent a gay member of staff suffering abuse once it has
started.

Mark Mansell, a partner at Allen & Overy, said, "From December 2003
employers will have to ensure that their employees receive the same protection
from harassment regarding their sexual orientation as they already have on
gender and race. If they don’t they [employers] could face the same penalties
of unlimited compensation. The Mayfield v Pearce ruling is only a brief
respite."

The Court of Appeal ruling also held that the abuse against Pearce could
have been a contravention of the right to respect for private life under
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.

www.allenovery.com

By Ben Willmott

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