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3 Things We Learnt In Law This Week (21 February 2019)

Prison Officer Was Unfairly Dismissed After Revealing Sexuality

Forty-year-old Ben Plaistow was the victim of direct discrimination contrary to provisions of the Equality Act 2010, employment judge Michael Ord told the Cambridge Tribunal.

Plaistow took on a prison officer role at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes in September 2014, having sought a transfer from Bullingdon prison.

He was suspended from Woodhill in January 2016 and dismissed in August the same year.

A week after starting his new job, Plaistow was asked by a colleague whether he was gay, because of his haircut. A few days afterwards, at his induction meeting, his boss, custody manager Laithwaite, asked him about his sexuality. Plaistow said he found the question odd but answered honestly by stating he was bisexual. Laithwaite told the tribunal that this interaction had not taken place, but Judge Ord found that her statements and those of other officers were not always reliable.

After this, the comments by colleagues “stepped up a notch”, as his solicitor put it, and he was called “poof”, “gay” and later, after he made a series of complaints, “vermin”. His prison-issued bag was coloured pink with a permanent marker pen by colleagues and also smeared with a pink fairy cake, but when he complained and asked for a replacement Laithwaite refused to co-operate.

He was also slapped on the hand, threatened with being “put on his arse” by another officer and had water squirted at him, incidents, he told the court, made him “feel like crying” and as if “all my dignity had been taken away”.

There was one occasion where Laithwaite grabbed Plaistow by the arm, causing bruising, and told him he was complaining too much about how he was being treated at Woodhill.

These experiences soon led Plaistow to seek a return to his previous posting at HMP Bullingdon, which would have accepted the transfer – a fact that was not communicated to Plaistow by senior managers. Initially, one governor approved the transfer but later, Plaistow was told in a meeting that Woodhill was short-staffed but that his application would be reconsidered at a later date.

Early in December 2015 he intervened to prevent an altercation between two prisoners. He was accused of using excessive force after police looked into the matter, despite the fact that other prison officers had been present but failed to assist Plaistow in dealing with the fight. This was used as a pretext to suspend him (for gross misconduct) and then, later in the year, dismiss him.

Ord concluded: “The claimant suffered a campaign of direct discrimination and harassment on the basis of his sexuality or perceived sexuality throughout his period of employment at Woodhill. He was subjected to detriment for having made protected disclosures and victimised having made protected acts. He was unfairly dismissed, and his dismissal was an act of victimisation.”

Nursery That Sacked Teacher For Living With Boyfriend Wins Appeal Against Religious Discrimination

An Orthodox Jewish nursery in London that sacked a teacher after it learned she was living with her boyfriend has won its appeal against religious discrimination.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) reversed a previous ruling that the dismissal of Zelda De Groen was discriminatory because it was unfair of the nursery to expect every one of its religion to follow orthodox practice.

The EAT ruled that while an employer was not allowed to act disfavourably to an employee based on that individual’s religious belief, it was permitted to do so based on its own belief so long as it acted consistently. The EAT ruled the nursery would have dismissed anyone cohabiting outside of marriage regardless of their religion.

De Groen was employed by the Gan Menachem Hendon nursery from July 2012 until her dismissal on 26 July 2016. Gan Menachem is a Jewish nursery affiliated to the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement, which the tribunal was told is run in accordance with “ultra-orthodox” principles.

It came to the nursery’s attention that De Groen was living with her boyfriend after the couple attended a barbecue organised by a synagogue affiliated with the nursery in May 2016. One of the nursery directors and the parents of some children attending the nursery were present at the function, and De Groen’s boyfriend had mentioned their cohabitation in conversation.

The tribunal heard no particular attention seemed to have been paid to the remarks at the time, but they led to a meeting between De Groen, the nursery’s headteacher Miriam Lieberman and its managing director Dina Toron on 27 June 2016.

In the meeting, De Groen was told her private life was of no concern to the nursery but was asked to confirm she was no longer living with her boyfriend so they could tell concerned parties.

Both Lieberman and Toron also expressed the view that cohabitation outside marriage was wrong, that having children outside marriage was wrong, and that at 23 years old “time was passing” for De Groen to have children. They added that if De Groen had problems with the idea of marriage, she should seek counselling.

De Groen was dismissed with immediate effect in a letter dated 27 July 2016. In the letter, the nursery alleged De Groen had presented herself in “such a way as to prove you have acted or are acting in contravention of the nursery’s culture, ethos and religious beliefs”, and that parental complaints about these actions had damaged the nursery’s reputation.

The Watford employment tribunal ruled De Groen was discriminated against by the nursery by reason of her sex and religion or beliefs. The tribunal also found she had been harassed by her former employer. The nursery appealed.

Judge Swift, who heard the EAT case, said the initial tribunal’s findings of religious discrimination had been incorrect, citing Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd, in which the Supreme Court ruled the baker was not discriminating against an individual’s personal characteristics when it refused to ice a pro-gay marriage slogan on a cake because it would have refused to display the same slogan whatever the sexuality of the customers.

But he dismissed the appeal against discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her sex, ruling Toron and Lieberman had intended to discuss the possibility of marriage and pregnancy when they met with De Groen.

Four Out Of Five Police Officers Feel Stressed Or Anxious

79% of police officers say they have felt feelings of stress and anxiety in the past 12 months according to a Police Federation of England and Wales survey of its members.

Nearly all of those (94%) of those who experienced such feelings said they were caused or made worse by their job.

Approaching half (44%) of more than 18,000 police officer to respond said they viewed their job as “very or extremely stressful”, a larger proportion than was found in the equivalent 2016 survey (39%) and almost three times that found in the general population by the Health & Safety Executive in 2010 (15%).

The research also found an increase in single crews, where police officers work alone, with 76% of respondents from relevant front-line roles indicating that they are often or always single-crewed.

The federation’s national vice-chair Ché Donald said: “When officers work alone, they are undoubtedly exposed to increased risk – for them and the public, not to mention the detrimental effect on their overall health and wellbeing.

“It’s quite simple – policing is dangerous in every sense, and whilst single-crewing may work for some forces and certain types of enquiries, it is not acceptable the majority of the time.

“Forces are having their hands forced as they struggle to meet the increased demands placed on them, but this false economy of single-crewing merely creates the illusion of public safety. Quite simply this is not sustainable, and officers are suffering.”

The research also showed that 90% of officers say that there are not enough of them to manage the demands faced by their unit.

Almost every police officer has been exposed to at least one traumatic experience in their career, with 62% saying they had experienced at least one of these types of incident in the past 12 months.

Donald continued: “The police service’s most valuable resource is its people and these results should be a huge red flag to the Government, Chief Constables and the public. Officers are stressed, exhausted and consistently exposed to things people should never have to see – and these results show just how much it is taking its toll.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Chief constable Andy Rhodes said: “Police chiefs will look carefully at the findings of this survey, which provides valuable feedback and reiterates the extremely challenging situations and environments our officers face every day.

“It is vitally important that they receive support and care because, as a society, we have an obligation to look after the men and women whose job it is to keep us safe.”

SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Emma Roberts
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Emma Roberts

Emma is a trainee solicitor at SCE Solicitors. Emma commenced her training contract in September 2018 and is currently working in the employment law department assisting director Samira Cakali. Emma also assists in the running of the firm’s myHR service where she can support you in the day-to-day management of your staff.

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