Corus Hotels plc v Woodward, EAT, 17 March 2006

Background

At Ms Woodward’s interview for the post of hotel receptionist she was asked some personal questions about being a single parent and her ability to fulfil the role. She received no confirmation she had been unsuccessful in her application, nor any reason for her failure. Subsequently, she brought a successful sex discrimination claim.

The tribunal found the interview was inappropriate and not in accordance with the hotel’s policies. It awarded £525 for loss of earnings and £5,000 compensation for injury to feelings following the guidelines in Vento v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police. These identified three bands of damages:



  • Lowest band £500-£5,000

  • Middle band £5,000-£15,000

  • Highest band £15,000-£25,000

The tribunal took into account the hotel had 60 hotels and 3,500 employees and its conduct had been unsatisfactory.

Appeal

The hotel appealed on two grounds. First, the tribunal had sought to punish the hotel’s conduct and had inappropriately taken into account the size of the organisation. Second, the tribunal had not taken into account comparable awards in personal injury claims in assessing likely public perception of the award.

Decision

The appeal was allowed. While the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered the interview had been conducted in a “crassly sexist manner”, the tribunal had inflated the award based on its own feelings regarding the hotel’s conduct. Further, the organisation’s size was irrelevant in this context. The EAT reduced the award to £4,000.

Comment

All organisations, regardless of size, must ensure that the principle of equal opportunities is followed in all their recruitment practices. Further, all staff involved in the interview process should be trained in the provisions of the equality legislation and about the danger of making assumptions about marital status, children or domestic obligations.

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