Pregnant on the front line: discrimination against a female police officer – Devon and Cornwall Police v Town [2020] UKEAT 0194/19/1009

Pregnancy should not be a setback to any woman’s career. This is reflected in Section 18 of the Equality Act 2010, which specifically relates to discrimination.

A person (A) discriminates against a woman if, in the protected period in relation to a pregnancy of hers, A treats her unfavourably because of the pregnancy.

equality act 2010 – Section 18

In a recent case before the Employment Tribunal in Exeter, Mrs Town, a serving police officer brought a claim against her police force. She was a Response Officer on the front line, in a team she really got on with, and was working the job she had always wanted.

When she became pregnant, she was reallocated from the Response team to the Crime Management Hub. This was a role which involved no front-line work, and the transfer was affected, according to the force, in the interests of Mrs Town, as they said it was safer for a pregnant woman. This transfer was contrary to her own wishes, and also ignored a risk assessment which had been carried out by a sergeant on the force. The claim had two heads: the Section 18 claim against pregnancy discrimination, and also a Section 19 indirect discrimination claim.

The Section 18 claim

The Tribunal found that the unfavourable treatment was removing Mrs Town from a supportive working environment she enjoyed, against a backdrop of risk to her mental health which she had warned against. The force contended that it was not unfavourable, as they were simply removing Mrs Town from risks that a pregnant woman should not be exposed to. However, as I have mentioned, a risk assessment had been carried out which concluded Mrs Town would have been able to remain in the Response team had certain minor adjustments been made. As such, moving her was considered unfavourable treatment, not least because her mental health did end up suffering as a result.

The Section 19 claim

Section 19 states that someone will be discriminated against if a provision, criterion, or practice (PCP) is applied to them which is discriminatory in relation to a protected characteristic.

The PCP in question was a policy of the force which said:

“If someone is on restricted duties beyond two weeks they will be considered for a role in Crime Hub.”

Pregnancy is not a protected characteristic, but the argument of the Claimant was that, as only women can get pregnant, and pregnancy is an automatic trigger for the policy, women are plainly disproportionately liable to be transferred. As such, it was considered by the Tribunal to be indirect discrimination. It was noted that it is not necessary for every member of a group to be at a particular disadvantage for it to be said that the members of the group are at a particular disadvantage if a member of the group is more likely to be disadvantaged than the comparative group.

The appeal

HHJ Shanks dismissed the appeal from the force on both the Section 18 and Section 19 issues, agreeing totally with the judgment of the Tribunal.

Chris Hadrill, partner in the employment team at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers must ensure that they treat pregnant women fairly – if they fail to do so, as in this case, then they face potentially lengthy, costly and time-consuming Employment Tribunal litigation as well as a finding that they have discriminated against the person in question.”

Link to judgment: