Legal experts have reassured employers that a multi-million pound legal claim brought by a transsexual is unlikely to prompt a flood of similar claims.
Jessica Bussert, formerly known as Josh, is seeking £500,000 from Hitachi Data Systems under the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999.
She is also suing Hitachi in the US for $3.6m (£1.93m) – said to be the biggest ever to be brought over a sex change – claiming the company demoted her from her high-level IT job after she had facial and breast surgery.
Hitachi has denied both of the claims.
Since a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) 10 years ago, it has been unlawful to discriminate against transsexuals in the workplace.
The regulations now make it clear that the ruling applies to an employee who intends to undergo gender reassignment, is going through the process or has already done so.
Andrew Chamberlain, employment partner at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, said discrimination claims on the basis of gender identity were rare.
“To date, queries in this area have tended to be confined to practical questions such as which toilets transsexuals should use in the workplace,” he said.
As a high earner, it is the size of Bussert’s claim which makes it particularly noteworthy and potentially very damaging for Hitachi UK – both financially and in terms of company reputation, Chamberlain said.
“There is no cap on the damages that tribunals can award for discrimination cases,” he said.
Last month, the ECJ ruled that the UK government’s refusal to give a woman who had had a sex change a pension at the age of 60 was illegal under EU equality laws.
More on Jessica Bussert’s claim
Legal briefing on employing transsexuals