Marriage discrimination has come under the spotlight following the reporting
of a case successfully brought against Derbyshire Police.
Discrimination on the grounds of marital status is outlawed under the Sex
Discrimination Act 1975, but there have been few examples in the employment
Graham v Chief Constable of Derbyshire Police was brought by a senior female
police officer whose appointment to the post of area inspector was rescinded
after the chief constable learned her husband was commander of the same
division. He argued Graham would not be a competent witness against her husband
in any criminal proceedings and it would be difficult for officers to complain
to the commander about her.
The EAT found Graham had been subject not only to indirect sex
discrimination but also to direct marriage discrimination because she had been
treated less favourably than would an unmarried female officer in a comparable
position. Also, because the chief constable had failed to justify the rule that
co-habiting officers should not work in the same division, the EAT held this
policy was also indirect marriage discrimination.
The case follows a tribunal finding of direct marriage discrimination in Kay
v Ripon Cathedral Choir School, after the offer of a headmistress post was
withdrawn following complaints from parents because the teacher’s husband ran a
legal practice that was under official scrutiny.
Discrimination law specialist Pauline Matthews said employers should review
policies and practices to make sure they do not discriminate directly or
indirectly against married people.
"Any policy will have to be justifiable," she warned. "Have
you concrete examples of such relationships causing problems in the past? Can
you point to other organisations where there have been problems?
"Derbyshire’s chief constable came unstuck because only one other
police force had a similar policy and the tribunal viewed his concerns as
unfounded," she warned.