The House of Lords has recently decided that a group of dinner ladies had been unlawfully victimised when their employer, St Helens Council, put pressure on them to settle their equal pay claim. The council had written directly to them and their colleagues in the catering department, warning them of the serious consequences that would follow (including closures and job losses) if they failed to settle their equal pay claim. The Employment Tribunal considered that the tone of the letter was intimidating, and therefore the dinner ladies had been victimised.
The possibility of crossing the line beyond a robust and fair defence of a claim is a worry to employers defending all types of discrimination claims. As one law lord put it, it is a bit like being penalised a second time for being rude to the referee. But it is important to look at things from the employee’s point of view too. Any action that puts undue pressure on the employees to abandon their claim is, in the language of the legislation, likely to involve the prohibited step of subjecting them to a detriment on the grounds that discrimination proceedings have been brought or are being continued. Employers who do this will face further proceedings and an additional penalty.