Last February, we reported on Dunn v Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, which suggested that it could be unlawful to discriminate because a person is married to a particular person, and not simply on the ground that he or she is married. Hawkins v (1) Atex Group Ltd (2) Age Korsvold (3) Malo de Molina (4) Reardon looks at this issue and makes the point that it is crucial that the relationship is one of marriage (or civil partnership), and not just any close personal relationship. The case arose when a husband, wife, and their daughter were all dismissed on the ground that the husband had disobeyed a company instruction not to employ family members. His wife did not have enough service to make a claim of unfair dismissal, and so brought a claim alleging that the dismissal was discrimination on the ground of marital service. The claim was struck out as having no reasonable prospect of success and the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld this decision.
The Equality Act 2010, like its predecessors, protects those with the protected characteristic of marriage from discrimination on the ground of that characteristic. Does this concept, originally introduced to deal with the outmoded practice of dismissing women as soon as they married, which still continued into the 1960s, have any current relevance in the 21st century?
Dunn v The Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management shows that it still has a place in modern employment law. In this case, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) looked at a situation where the discrimination did not take place simply because the claimant was married, but because she was married to a particular individual. Mrs Dunn was unfairly constructively dismissed, and alleged that the reason for this was that she was married specifically to her husband: Mr Dunn was also employed by the same employer, and in dispute with it over his other business interests. There was no evidence that the unfavourable treatment was because of her marital status alone, so the claim could only succeed on this ground if discrimination on the grounds of marital status extends to cover the situation of being married to a particular person. Continue reading