EAT Rules on Scope of Marriage Discrimination Provisions
The EAT has held that the statutory provisions prohibiting discrimination on grounds of marriage do not protect a woman against less favourable treatment on the ground that she is married to a particular man. They only protect her where the less favourable treatment is due to the fact that she is married per se.
In Hawkins v Atex Group Ltd, H was appointed as marketing director of the company by her husband who was its chief executive. H was subsequently dismissed as the Board was concerned that having the wife of the chief executive in a senior executive role created an unacceptable conflict of interest.
H claimed that this amounted to direct discrimination on grounds of marital status. The employment tribunal and EAT disagreed. The statutory provisions only preclude a woman from being treated less favourably because she is married and not because of whom she is married to. H was not dismissed because she was married, but because of the closeness of her relationship to the chief executive which gave rise to a conflict of interest. A woman who was not married but in a similarly close relationship to the chief executive would also have been dismissed – so marriage was not the reason for the treatment.
In coming to this decision, the EAT contradicted a decision earlier this year in Dunn v Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management where it was suggested that the marriage discrimination provisions protected a woman where she was treated less favourably because she was married to a particular man. That decision was considered by many to be incorrect and this latest decision is therefore to be welcomed.
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