Vento v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police

When a tribunal is assessing compensation for a successful claim, they will take many factors into consideration, generally basing their conclusion on the financial loss of the claimant so that they are able to stand financially in the position that they would have, had they not been unfairly dismissed.

Compensation in discrimination claims includes a further factor – an element of award for injury to feelings. Vento v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police is the enduring case helping tribunals decide how much compensation to award for injury to feelings.

Ms Vento was undertaking training to become a police officer. In general, she made good progress during her first year in her paperwork and in her work relationships. But in the first half of 1997 a series of incidents occurred when fellow police officers criticised her conduct, her personal life and her character in an unwarranted, aggressive and demoralising manner. The treatment was found to be less favourable than a hypothetical male officer would have received in the same circumstances. The tribunal inferred that the less favourable treatment was on the ground of her sex.

At first she coped well with the situation and with the effects of the personal circumstances, including a marriage breakdown. However, she was subsequently diagnosed as clinically depressed. Over the next few months, she was prescribed medication and spent time on sick leave before returning to work. Further incidents of discrimination occurred following which she suffered suicidal impulses. The discriminatory treatment of her contributed to her depression and affected her ability to form relationships. She was dismissed on the ground of alleged lack of honesty and lack of performance.

The Employment Tribunal found that Ms Vento did not have a vulnerable personality, which would increase the risk of failing to complete a full career in the police force to the retirement age of 55. It found that she would have successfully completed her probation and qualified as a police constable. It also found that she had limited career prospects. She was only likely to engage in clerical work in the future.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), within the judgement, gave guidance on how to calculate injury to feelings compensation, as follows (the original compensatory figures given in 2002 have been uprated according to inflation but the bandings remain the same):

  • Awards up to £6,000 are appropriate for less serious cases, such as where the act of discrimination is an isolated or one off occurrence;
  • The middle band of between £6,000 and £18,000 should be used for serious cases, which do not merit an award in the highest band;
  • The top band should normally be between £18,000 and £30,000. Sums in this range should be awarded in the most serious cases, such as where there has been a lengthy campaign of discriminatory harassment.

The EAT declared that Vento’s compensation fell within the highest of these bands.

Any compensation greater than the highest band should only be awarded in the cases of the utmost seriousness.