Sex Discrimination: Referees Beware!


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Posted on 29 Oct 2010

In Bullimore v Pothecary Witham Weld Solicitors and another, the EAT found that the law firm, Ms Bullimore’s ex-employer, was liable for her loss of earnings as a result of providing a reference, which amounted to victimisation.  This was even though the new employer had acted unlawfully when withdrawing its offer of employment on receipt of the reference (this also amounted to victimisation). 

It was found that the reason for providing the poor reference was because Ms Bullimore had previously pursued a claim of sex discrimination against her previous employer. The reference referred to this claim and her “poor relationship” with the partners (amongst other things).  The EAT held that it was "evidently foreseeable" that the job offer would be withdrawn as it was "a direct and natural consequence of the supply of the information", even though it was unlawful. The EAT held that as a matter of policy and fairness the previous employer should be liable for the direct consequences of its actions - here Ms Bullimore’s loss of earnings. 

In the circumstances, it would have been more prudent to give a bland reference, or nothing at all. So, referees beware!

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