The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has recently lost an appeal against a tribunal ruling that it discriminated against a single mother soldier on grounds of both sex and race.
Tilern DeBique, a Foreign and Commonwealth soldier from St Vincent and the Grenadines, served with the British Army’s 10th Signal Regiment from March 2001. She gave birth in August 2005 and, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) recently heard, she was given two-bedroom family accommodation at Chelsea Barracks and made arrangements that she would work from 8.30am to 4.30pm on weekdays but would not undertake weekend duties.
DeBique had a carer, but in December 2006 her child fell ill and she missed training. In January 2007, she failed to appear on parade for “a reason relating to childcare difficulties”. She was told this was a serious offence and that she faced disciplinary action.
The soldier wanted to bring a half-sister from St Vincent to the UK to care for her child. However, as a foreign national, the relative would not be able to enter the country as anything other than a visitor and could not stay for more than six months. The MoD said this meant the option was “out of its hands” and there was no point in pursuing it.
DeBique, concerned that she was on “a path to dismissal”, decided to resign in April 2007. Her commanding officer told her that: “The British Army was a war-fighting machine and he didn’t think it suitable for a single mother who couldn’t sort out her childcare arrangements.”
Shortly after, she lodged a claim at employment tribunal and alleged sex and race discrimination. DeBique stated: “As a female soldier I think I am proportionately disadvantaged compared to male soldier. In addition…I realised that being a Foreign and Commonwealth soldier puts me at an additional disadvantage.”
In 2008, the tribunal ruled that DeBique had suffered discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act and race discrimination under the Race Relations Act (RRA). It said the Army “was found to have failed to make any appropriate arrangements” for the claimant. Nor had it tried to effect a relaxation of “the usual immigration rule” or obtained a concession by liaising with the UK Border Agency.
The MoD appealed on several grounds. For example, it argued that the tribunal had erred in deciding it had jurisdiction under the RRA to determine the immigration [of the half-sister] claim.
But the EAT held there was no error of law in the tribunal’s rulings and dismissed the MoD’s appeal.