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Woman engineer wins her appeal over sex discrimination claim

A woman engineer who was told she was aggressive and unlikeable by male colleagues has won her appeal against the dismissal of her sex discrimination claim.

The woman had been engaged as a mechanical engineer at a nuclear power station. A hostile atmosphere developed between her and her manager, who had never worked with a female engineer before.

Two other male colleagues were also hostile, openly questioning her personality and her work, asserting that she was aggressive, unlikeable and did not know what she was doing. One of them refused to work with her and on one occasion lied about his involvement in something she was asking about.

Her contract was terminated 12 weeks after it started.

She brought claims of harassment and sex discrimination but the Employment Tribunal said there was no basis on which it could prefer her evidence to that of the employer, and there was no corroborating documentary evidence.

It rejected her discrimination claims, either because she had not proved the facts involving less favourable treatment or harassment or, where she had done so, because her treatment was not “because of” or “related to” her sex.

However, the tribunal also accepted that the employer had not complied with its disclosure obligations.

She appealed saying that the tribunal had taken a fragmented approach to the evidence and applied the burden of proof incorrectly.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled in her favour. It held that the tribunal had taken a narrow approach to its fact-finding task. It appeared to have forgotten to look at the overall picture when deciding separate issues, and not tried to reach views about the witnesses overall.

When referring to the absence of corroborating documentary evidence, it appeared to have forgotten the potential significance of documents not recording things, or not being produced by the party in possession of them. It failed to properly consider what inferences could be drawn from the lack of documents. Its over-narrow approach undermined its findings of primary fact.

The case was remitted to a fresh tribunal for re-hearing.

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