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New Mother Given Fresh Hope in Sex Discrimination Claim

It is a fundamental tenet of the English legal system that those on the losing side in litigation are entitled to know the reasons for their defeat. In a case which underlined that principle, a teacher who was refused permission to work part time after returning from maternity leave had her compensation hopes boosted by a tribunal.

The woman, who taught children with special needs, was refused permission to work a four-day week on the basis that her pupils required stability and continuity. Her employer accepted that the requirement that its staff work a full five-day week disadvantaged her and others in the same position. However, it was also common ground that the policy was designed to achieve a legitimate aim.

In rejecting the woman’s complaint of indirect sex discrimination, an Employment Tribunal (ET) recognised that a difficult balancing exercise was required. It concluded that the policy was proportionate in that the benefit it achieved for the woman’s pupils outweighed its discriminatory impact on her.

In upholding her challenge to that ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal noted that, after summarising the largely undisputed factual background, the ET had given a one-line answer to the central issue in the case. The paucity of reasoning meant that it was impossible to be sure that the ET had given the case the level of scrutiny required. The matter was sent back for re-hearing by a fresh tribunal.