Group Captain Wendy Williams, who commenced employment with the RAF in 1984, was a senior nurse in the RAF. A vacancy for a tri-service post at the Defence Medical Group arose in 2011 and Group Captain Williams applied to be the RAF’s nominee to this post. Success in the application to this post would have meant promotion to the position of One Star General with the rank of Air Commodore. However, a male doctor, Group Captain John Gaffney was selected to be the RAF’s nominee instead. It is unknown whether Group Captain Gaffney was in fact promoted to the post. Group Captain Williams subsequently made a complaint of indirect discrimination against the Ministry of Defence under the Equalities Act 2010 and the case came to the Employment Tribunal earlier this year.
The Employment Tribunal heard evidence that Group Captain Williams had not been selected for the post even though she was highly qualified and highly recommended and that a doctor had instead been chosen for the post. Group Captain Williams contended that the dismissal of Group Captain Gaffney was discriminatory as the RAF had a practice of promoting men – rather than women – to senior officer positions. Further, she contended that it was the RAF’s procedure to fill medical “One Star” roles that were theoretically open to both doctors and nurses only with doctors. She advanced the Ministry of Defence’s own 2011 figures as evidence for this – figures that showed that of the RAF’s 470 top senior officers, only six were women. The RAF contended that Group Captain Gaffney had been the more qualified and suitable candidate and that – even if he had not been – its decision was both made with a legitimate aim in mind and proportionate.
The Employment Tribunal found in Group Captain Williams’ favour in her claim, finding that she had been denied the post due to discrimination. The Tribunal commented that “Viewed with an objective eye against the job specification, we have considered all the evidence and find that for a number of reasons the claimant was not only equal to Group Captain Gaffney but that an objective review of her appraisals and those of Group Captain Gaffney would have led to the claimant being considered as the properly preferred candidate of the RAF”.
An RAF spokesman said after the judgment that: “The RAF is fully committed to the Equality Act 2010 and has consistently received extensive recognition for its work on gender equality and in promoting career opportunities for women”
Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor in the Employment Team at Redmans, commented that “organisations can often make unconsciously discriminating actions against applicants or their own employees without any conscious discriminatory intent and must be on their guard against doing so – a failure to carry out a fair and objective process can lead to costly (and potentially damaging) Employment Tribunal claims”.