Sex bias claim - policewoman wins caser

PUBLISHED: 10:00 27 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:06 22 October 2010


A policewoman has won her claim of sex discrimination against Norfolk Constabulary after a tribunal heard how she was subjected to “unjustified, public and humiliating criticism” in an email from a high-ranking officer.

A policewoman has won her claim of sex discrimination against Norfolk Constabulary after a tribunal heard how she was subjected to “unjustified, public and humiliating criticism” in an email from a high-ranking officer.

The Employment Tribunal found that Sgt Christina Arthurton, of Old Catton, near Norwich, had suffered direct sex discrimination and that other claims of sex discrimination and victimisation had succeeded in part.

Among its findings were that Chief Constable Carole Howlett had been guilty of “bullying behaviour” in threatening an application for legal costs if the claimant did not enter mediation, at a time when she was off on long-term sick leave.

Mrs Arthurton, 47, a mother-of-three and a long-serving officer, is seeking £400,000 in damages, but this will be decided after a two-day hearing scheduled for September.

Although the experienced policewoman did not succeed in all of her claims, the tribunal's finding that she did suffer direct sex discrimination will be a considerable blow to the force, against which other employees are understood to be considering similar action.

Last night, Mrs Arthurton said: “In making a stand against the force, I took a courageous and principled position.

“Over the past 18 months, Norfolk Constabulary's senior management have behaved in a manner totally unacceptable for an organisation purporting to be committed to fairness and equality and to nurture the development of its minority staff.”

Chief Constable Carole Howlett said there were “no winners” from any employment tribunal and said the force regretted not being able to resolve Mrs Arthurton's complaints internally.

The tribunal had provided a detailed judgment in relation to claims made against individuals and the constabulary, and its new director of human resources had already been asked to “identify the lessons that need to be learnt for the future”.

“The constabulary is disappointed that the employment tribunal has found against it on some points but is reassured that in parts of the claim it concluded that allegations of sex discrimination, bullying and victimisation were not found,” said Mrs Howlett.

“We have always affirmed that Christina Arthurton was not victimised or discriminated against on the grounds of her gender and that the treatment she alleges was not motivated by reasons of deliberate and pre-meditated acts of gender discrimination, victimisation or bullying.”

Jenny McKibben, diversity lead member on Norfolk Police Authority, said: “We need the best staff for the job regardless of their gender and we need all staff to feel supported. We will be learning lessons from this tribunal to ensure that the constabulary and authority continue to improve.”

Mrs Arthurton's grievances with the force arose after she was seconded to work on a project to look at the feasibility of setting up a centre in Norwich to deal with domestic violence in early 2003. The project involved various agencies which made up a group called Norwich Voices Against Violence Forum (VAV).

But she told the tribunal that the way in which senior officers treated her in relation to her research project amounted to sex discrimination and that she was severely criticised, whereas male colleagues were not. She also said her career prospects had been damaged, she had been transferred from Bethel Street to Bowthorpe police station as a punishment for bringing proceedings against the force, and her ordeal had caused her to go on sick leave on December 6, 2004, from which she has yet to return.

She said Chief Supt Tony Cherington had subjected her to “unjustified, public and humiliating criticism” in an email which he also sent to five senior officers, and she was treated less favourably than male officers when Mr Cherington also criticised her at a meeting about the final draft of the domestic violence research report.

The tribunal found that his email “did contain humiliating criticism” of Mrs Arthurton and those criticisms were unfair in view of his own failure fully to acknowledge the fault lay with those responsible for managing her.

The tribunal had also heard that Mrs Arthurton was not informed about a vacancy for an Asbo (anti-social behaviour order) co-ordinator at Bethel Street which was subsequently given to another officer without it being advertised. Against her wishes, she found herself transferred to Bowthorpe police station.

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