Personal liability in discrimination claims

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT) in the case of Baldwin v Cleves School and others has considered whether An Employment Tribunal could use its discretion to find two employees were not personally liable for their own discriminatory acts.

Background

Ms Baldwin (“the Claimant”) was employed as a newly qualified teacher by Cleves School from September 2014 to March 2015. At the end of September 2014, the Claimant made Cleves School aware that she was undergoing medical tests and there was a possible diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.

The Claimant resigned in March 2015 after a series of incidents involving her colleagues and brought claims for disability discrimination in the Employment Tribunal against Cleves School, a colleague (Ms Miller) and the Head Teacher (Mr Hodges).

The Law

Under the Equality Act 2010, anything done by an employee in the course of their employment is treated as having also been done by the employer, regardless of whether the employee’s acts were done with the employer’s knowledge or approval.

Furthermore, under section 110 of the Equality Act 2010, employees can also be found to be personally liable for unlawful discrimination committed by them during the course of their employment and it is possible for discrimination claims to be brought against individuals in their personal capacity.

Decision

The Employment Tribunal upheld two of the Claimant’s disability discrimination claims.

It decided that Cleves School was vicariously liable for the two acts of discrimination, but that Ms Miller and Mr Hodges were not liable for those acts under section 110 of the Equality Act 2010.

The Employment Tribunal dismissed the claims against Ms Miller and Mr Hodges on the basis that their actions had been misguided attempts in trying to address a complex situation.

The Claimant appealed.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the tribunal had no discretion where the conditions of section 110 of the Equality Act apply:

  • Were the individuals employees?
  • Did they do something (the act of discrimination) that was treated as having been done by their employer? and
  • Did that act of discrimination amount to a contravention of the Equality Act 2010 by the employer?

If yes to the above, the individuals are also liable and there was no discretion to consider their conduct differently. The only exception would be if the individual’s had been told by their employer that the discriminatory act was lawful and they reasonably believed this to be true. This was not the case in this matter.

The EAT substituted a decision that Ms Miller and Mr Hodges contravened section 110 of the Equality Act 2010 and were therefore liable for the discriminatory conduct.

Comment

This case is a reminder that discrimination claims can be brought against individuals personally and so long as the conditions of section 110 of the Equality Act are met, an Employment Tribunal has no discretion to find there is no liability on their behalf.

Case reference Baldwin v Cleves School and others [2024] EAT 66

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