This case provides a welcome departure from a difficult line of
Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decisions relating to
discrimination on grounds of marital status. That line of cases,
which culminated with
Dunn (reported in our December 2011 eBulletin), suggested that
an employer will have discriminated against an employee on the
grounds of marital status if it subjects an employee to a detriment
for reasons relating to their close relationship with another
person where the two individuals are married.
In the present case however, a different EAT has disagreed and
held that action based on close relationships, rather than on
marriage itself, will not be discriminatory.
The facts of this case and Dunn were similar in that the
employer dismissed a female employee for reasons related to their
close relationship with their husband. In each case the female
employee complained that the dismissal was direct discrimination on
grounds of marital status.
In Dunn the husband had worked for the same employer and had
been in dispute with them. Mrs Dunn alleged that her connection to
her husband resulted in less favourable treatment in her grievance
process, which had in turn resulted in her constructive
In this case, the female employee was married to the Chief
Executive of the employer. Her employment was terminated on the
basis that her employment contravened an instruction to her husband
that the company should not to employ family members of the
The decision in Dunn was unsatisfactory and problematic for
employers. For example, it suggested that dismissing an employee
due to the risk of them passing confidential information to their
spouse would be an act of discrimination on the grounds of marital
However, this case makes the (arguably correct) distinction
between treatment that is based on the fact of a person being
married (unlawful), and treatment based on issues arising from a
close relationship between two people, who might also happen to be
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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