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Steer v Stormsure Ltd

The Court of Appeal has rejected the claim for interim relief in claims of sex discrimination after concluding that such any award would completely change how employment tribunals are handled. Lord Justice Bean, sitting in Steer v Stormsure Ltd, rejected the contention of claimant Sabrina Steer that she should have a right to seek interim relief. The other justices concurring.

The claimant accepted that no such right was provided for in the Equality Act 2010, but said that this failure of domestic law for interim relief in discrimination and victimisation cases amounted to discrimination against women, in breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. She was supported in her application by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The court rejected the argument that the failure of the domestic law to provide for interim relief in discrimination and victimisation cases, as is provided in whistleblowing cases, amounted to discrimination against women.

Mr Justice Cavanagh, who heard the case in the employment appeal tribunal, had rejected her application, observing that to rule otherwise would ‘change significantly’ the legal landscape regarding remedies available, beyond those provided for by parliament.

Bean LJ supported his decision, concluding that the fact that interim relief was not available to Steer was not discrimination on the grounds of sex. Granting interim relief would invite any well-advised claimant to seek it, he said, and to effectively recover a full salary until the tribunal could arrange a hearing.

He added: ‘The likely result of extending interim relief to sex discrimination cases, or to discrimination cases generally, would therefore be to force ETs into a substantial reordering of their listing priorities, and inevitably mean that delays in other types of hearing (including final hearings in discrimination claims) would increase.’

Interim relief applications are currently relatively rare, with around 150 filed every year. This compares to the thousands of sex discrimination claims lodged each year.

Steer had brought a claim following a notification last July that her working hours were to be reduced by 60%: she contended this amounted to a dismissal which was a result of sex discrimination and victimisation. The defendant denies treating her unlawfully and no assessment of the pleaded claims has been made to determine whether they satisfy the ‘pretty good chance of success’ test, the judge noted.

Interim relief is available for certain types of claim and where the claimant complains about being dismissed. It is granted only if it appears likely the employment tribunal will find in a claimant’s favour.

Bean LJ agreed with Cavanagh J that the fact that a dismissed claimant in a whistleblowing case can claim interim relief, whereas a dismissed claimant in a sex discrimination case cannot, did not amount to discrimination on the grounds of sex. He pointed out that any dismissed whistleblower, whether male or female, can make an application for interim relief, just as any discrimination claimant who has been dismissed, whether male or female, cannot do so.