A gay officer made to feel ‘sub-human’ by the way his complaint about the Royal Navy’s accommodation policy was handled as been awarded £46,000 at an employment tribunal.
The officer, referred to as ‘XA’ in the judgment, complained after he found that couples and people with children were given two accommodation options to choose from, while single people were only given one.
In 2017, after accepting a posting to Bristol, the officer requested accommodation in the city centre, which would allow him to be closer to other people from the LGBTQ+ community. He felt that if he was given accommodation elsewhere, he would become isolated.
He did not disclose his sexual orientation in his application, but stated a preference for a flat in the central Bristol area and his willingness to make a personal contribution to his accommodation costs.
He was instead offered a property that was a 90-minute bus ride from Bristol city centre. He was told no other accomodation would be sought for him and that he had no other option but to accept it and appeal.
Sexual orientation discrimination
The claimant first attempted to resolve the matter informally. To do so, he had to disclose his sexual orientation to senior officers, which he found difficult.
He also requested to see a copy of the equality impact assessment for the Navy’s accommodation policy, but this was not issued to him despite numerous requests.
He later became anxious when he discovered that his email with a reference to his sexual orientation had been shared with colleagues.
The ban on gay people serving in the armed forces was lifted in 2000, but XA was concerned that negative attitudes could remain.
He later found that details about his sexual orientation was included in material posted on a digital calendar.
He told the tribunal that the need to reveal his sexual orientation to a significant number of personnel caused significant anxiety. That was compounded by repeated breaches of confidentiality.
He said the process had made him feel “sub-human and not worthy of the consideration that others would receive”.
The tribunal found that there was a clear difference in treatment, with the claimant being denied a benefit in a way that was discriminatory because of his protected characteristic.
In arriving at its judgment in XA v Ministry of Defence, the tribunal noted that the system at the MoD remains unchanged, with the claimant likely to experience the same issues when he needs to find further accommodation in a few months.
It found that the policy was likely to have “a disproportionate effect on the group of service personnel who identify as gay“ as members of the LGBTQ+ community are “less likely to be married or in a civil partnership than heterosexual service personnel”.
Employment Judge Martha Street said: “The consequence was to be isolated over the two-year term of his Bristol service, without ready access to his own community. That might have been the case with a second offer, but to have a second offer would at least have been to be treated the same as others.”
He was awarded £46,959 in compensation, including £25,200 for injury to feelings, and £8,000 in aggravated damages.
The tribunal made several recommendations for the MoD, including:
- ensuring that equality impact assessments are available to those within the MoD, by being published on the MoD intranet, for example
- creating opportunities for feedback that do not depend solely on formal complaints
- establishing procedures for reporting concerns, failures or breaches, particularly when raised by an individuals who reports being harmed or at risk of harm
- identifying a person in every department who will be responsible for implementing and quality assuring MoD policies in respect of diversity and inclusion, including equality impact assessments and the application of the Public Sector Equality Duty. Contact details should be provided for this person, so personnel know who to approach.
Rhys Wyborn, employment partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said the case was an example of how a poorly considered workplace policy can end up being costly for employers.
“While the Armed Forces are subject to their own codes of conduct and procedures to address employment and discrimination issues, this case shows that where personnel have suffered discrimination, there are protections under the Equality Act 2010 that can be enforced.
“Whilst huge progress has been made in ensuring equality within the workplace, there are still sectors, professions and industries that have a way to go. Employers reviewing policies around areas such as accommodation may not realise they are being discriminatory towards people with certain protected characteristics such as race, sex or sexuality.
“In any workplace, it is essential to regularly review new and existing policies and procedures to reduce the risk of discriminating against those with protected characteristics, whether directly or even indirectly. Making anyone feel forced to disclose their sexuality to their employer is absolutely unacceptable.”
The Royal Navy has been contacted for comment.