The story so far…

The Chief Executive of BP recently resigned from his position after being found to have lied to a court regarding his relationship with 27- year-old Jeff Chevalier. Lord Browne, who was due to retire at the end of July, was forced to resign early due to a number of revelations exposed in court documents.

The troubles began when his expartner Mr Chevalier contacted a tabloid newspaper to sell his story. Lord Browne applied for an injunction to try and prevent the paper from publishing the story and subsequently admitted he had lied about how he met Mr Chevalier.

The House of Lords then lifted the injunction banning the publication.

Other areas of Lord Browne’s private life were also revealed in court documents and Lord Browne felt he had no choice but to resign immediately, forfeiting a substantial retirement package worth millions of pounds.

Other revelations were that Lord Browne had:

· used BP resources and staff to help set up a mobile phone ring tone company for his boyfriend;

· confided in Mr Chevalier about his discussions on BP strategy with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Lord Browne’s career began over 40 years ago with BP and in the last ten years he has been credited with taking BP from a £20 billion market value to nearly £110 billion.

Employment Law Implications

So what exactly has Lord Browne done wrong?

Misuse of company resources - Peter Sutherland, the Chairman of BP has stated that the allegations regarding misuse of company assets and resources were “unfounded or insubstantive”.

Allowing Mr Chevalier to be privy to BP strategy – certainly confidential information should be kept confidential. However, it is questionable how many wives, husbands or partners of senior executives have not overheard business details. Why should Lord Browne be treated any differently?

Lying to the court – Lord Browne’s biggest mistake was lying as to how he met Mr Chevalier to the court. This is how Lord Browne’s reputation has been tarnished and looking at the precedent set by Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, this should be his biggest concern. Lord Browne has always regarded his sexuality as a personal matter and when faced with the allegations by Mr Chevalier, he seems to have made a rash decision to make a false statement as to how the two met. However, there are now calls from some quarters for him to be prosecuted for perjury. Such misbehaviour by a senior executive is likely to amount to gross misconduct since the employer is brought into disrepute.

Since the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 were implemented in December 2003 it is questionable what, if any, difference has been made in industry. It is doubtful that there would have been such a tabloid fuss had Lord Browne met a young woman and been in a relationship with her.

Gay Employee Receives Compensation at Tribunal

Employment Tribunals are taking the Regulations seriously. In the recent case of Ditton v CP Publishing Ltd, ET an employee who was bullied because of his sexual orientation was awarded £118,000 in compensation for unlawful sexual orientation discrimination. Mr Ditton had worked for the company for only eight days when he was dismissed for not being “psychologically balanced”. As a result of the dismissal Mr Ditton suffered from depression and low self-esteem and his alcohol consumption increased.

Action

As an employer you should consider the following:

· Make sure your Equal Opportunities Policy is up-to-date and deals with sexual orientation.

· Ensure your staff are trained on the Equal Opportunities Policy and appraised of any changes.

· Make it clear that there will be no tolerance of any sexual orientation discrimination.

· Make it clear what an employee should do if they feel they are being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

The Future

The legislation is in place to protect employees against sexual orientation discrimination. However attitudes in the workplace have not necessarily followed.

Nevertheless the future is perhaps looking a little brighter. The new Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 extend the protection to those discriminated because of their sexual orientation to goods and services. Hopefully, with the legislation now in place, people’s attitudes will change.

At present there is no specialist commission tackling discrimination in the area of sexual orientation, unlike, for example, the Disability Rights Commission, which protects those who are disabled. However from October 2007 there will be a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights that is to cover all areas of discrimination, including sexual orientation.