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Witches’ hats, sexist comments, and a £2 million pay-out

<a href=Julie Bann and Christian Grierson discuss a case in which a finance specialist has won over £2 million in compensation, after claims of sex discrimination and unequal pay.

Stacey Macken v BNP Paribas London Branch

A finance specialist who worked for the French international banking group BNP Parabis has won over £2 million in compensation.

The Claimant was previously successful in her claims of sex discrimination, victimisation, and unequal pay and the recent remedy judgment represents one of the largest awards ever made by an employment tribunal.

Background

The Claimant brought a number of claims in respect of discrimination and equal pay issues against the London Branch of BNP Paribas.

Central to her claim was that the fact the Claimant was paid 25% less than that of her male peer and her bonus payment was also substantially lower than what he received, despite them receiving equal grades for their performance. The financial gap between the Claimant and her male peer only continued to expand in the next couple years.

The Claimant also was subject to “inherently sexist act[s]”, including a witch’s hat being left on her desk by a drunk male peer and her boss repeatedly replying to her with: “not now, Stacey”.

In the 2019 judgment, the Tribunal unanimously held that the Claimant had been subject to direct sex discrimination and victimisation and she was entitled to equal pay. The Claimant had been unfairly treated as junior on the basis of her sex.

Remedy Judgment

In an employment tribunal case, a remedy judgment will often follow after the decision in the substantive hearing. Following the Claimant’s successful claim in 2019 the Tribunal later considered what compensation was appropriate to be awarded.

The Tribunal found that the Claimant was entitled to compensation for her lost salary, lost bonuses, for harm to her future earnings , injury to her feelings and for loss of congenial employment. The Claimant had already received a payment from BNP Parabis prior to this award.

Interestingly, the judgment found that BNP Parabis had failed to provide an effective apology to the Claimant which was reflected in the compensation award.
Comment

Whilst not many jobs (or claims) attract the same eye-watering figures the basic principles of employment law remains the same.

A tribunal can find a “sex equality clause” in an employee’s contract of employment. Such a clause has the effect that any term of the woman’s contract which is less favourable than that of a male comparator, should be treated as modified so as to be no less favourable. Unless the difference is due to a non-discriminatory “material factor”.

Organisations which treat employees differently on the basis of sex face a real risk of an employment tribunal claim. Where there is a disparity in pay between a man and a woman performing a similar role then there must be a genuine material factor for the distinction. This can extend to roles that may not immediately be identical but when considering the nature of the role and that the work is of equal value, then the female staff should be renumerated equally.

The obligation on organisations to consider their methods and processes of working to avoid discrimination is fundamental to public sector organisations. The Public Sector Equality Duty places public sector organisations at a greater risk of similar claims. Proactive steps must be taken to help to create a supportive culture within an organisation where employees are not exposed to unfavourable treatment.

Another key learning point from this case is to acknowledge when mistakes happen, apologise if appropriate and confirm what steps will be taken to avoid such mistakes happening again. In our experience, Employment Tribunal litigation is often triggered by disgruntled staff who feel that there was a lack of transparency and a failure to properly acknowledge & apologise when mistakes are made.

Sharpe Pritchard has an experienced team of employment solicitors who regularly advises public sector clients on all manner of contentious and non-contentious employment law matters. Please contact Christian Grierson if you wish to discuss the implications of this article in more detail.

Julie Bann is a Partner and Christian Grierson is a Solicitor at Sharpe Pritchard LLP.


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