Gilbank v Miles, EAT, 14 September 2005,
EAT website, 27 October 2005
In this case, the manager of a hairdressing salon was made personally liable for the compensation awarded to an individual for sex discrimination.
Gilbank was a senior hair designer at the company. Her line manager was Miles, a director and majority share owner of the company. After she informed Miles of her pregnancy, Gilbank claimed she was subjected to discrimination.
No risk assessment was carried out and there was no attempt to adjust her working practices in light of her pregnancy. Gilbank’s claim of sex discrimination was upheld by the tribunal, which found an “inhumane and sustained campaign of bullying and discrimination” that had been “targeted, deliberate, repeated, and consciously inflicted”, showing a total lack of concern for the welfare of Gilbank and her unborn child.
The tribunal’s award of compensation included £25,000 for injury to feelings. Miles (who did not attend the hearing) and the company were made jointly liable for the compensation on the basis that Miles had fostered and encouraged the discriminatory behaviour. Miles appealed against the decision.
Decision on appeal
The appeal was dismissed by the EAT. It was satisfied that Miles, by fostering a culture of bullying and by joining in herself, was aiding the unlawful discrimination. The award of compensation was not excessive in the circumstances.
This case serves as a useful warning that both individuals and employers can be held liable in cases of discrimination. The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (section 42) makes provision for individuals to be liable if they have knowingly aided another person in an act of discrimination.
A tribunal will not usually make an award against an individual, but there are other cases where it has done so. It was significant here that Miles was effectively the owner of the business. She did not assist her case by not attending the tribunal hearing and giving evidence herself, and the tribunal was very critical of this.