Pregnant officer put on desk duty discriminated against

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has upheld a ruling, in Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police v Town, that a pregnant police officer was discriminated against due to a policy that meant pregnant officers could be transferred to a desk-based role.

An employee of Devon and Cornwall Police was moved from her position on the Response Team to a desk-based role at the Police’s Crime Management Hub after disclosure of her pregnancy. This was because of a policy which instructed that a person on ‘restricted duties’ for longer than two weeks would be transferred to the Hub in the absence of ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Although the employee had outlined adjustments to her working day that could have allowed her to remain on the Response Team, such as interviewing suspects and reduced night shifts, none of these were considered. This was despite a risk assessment supporting her claims.

The employee felt forced to move to the Hub and later brought two claims to the Employment Tribunal (ET), arguing that she had suffered pregnancy discrimination and indirect discrimination on the basis of her sex, contrary to sections 18 and 19 of the Equality Act 2010 respectively.

The ET upheld both claims.

The Judge ruled that although her pregnancy was not the main reason for the change in her role, the employee had received unfavourable treatment as a result. Despite the Police’s argument that all decisions made were due to ‘business need’, this did not escape the fact that the context of all discussions surrounding the employee’s situation was her pregnancy.

The ET went on to say that the decision to place the employee in the Hub had also put her at a disadvantage due to her being pregnant. They outlined that pregnant women were particularly disadvantaged by the organisation’s policy and that it had failed to outline the ‘exceptional circumstances’ that would allow employees to avoid being placed in the Hub.

Although the organisation did not contest that the employee’s treatment was due to her pregnancy, they appealed against both findings. They stated that the ET failed to consider that the purpose of moving the claimant to the Hub was to protect her from danger whilst pregnant; they also argued that pregnancy was not a relevant protected characteristic for indirect discrimination and that the disadvantage suffered related to being pregnant, not being a woman.

The EAT dismissed the appeal on both grounds. Considering the organisation’s first argument, they found that it was clear that the claimant was not complaining about being removed from danger but about being transferred to the Hub without consideration of alternative solutions, which had placed her at a disadvantage.

In relation to the respondent’s second point, the EAT found that it was not necessary that all women suffered from the particular disadvantage if women as a group were more likely to be subject to an enforced transfer because of a provision, criterion, or practice.

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