Sex discrimination


Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was implemented into law on 12 November 1975. The Act set a basic legal framework for protection of men and women against discrimination based on sex or marital status; ensuring equal treatment and opportunities for men and women in society, workplace, education, training, harassment, the provision of goods and services and the disposal of premises. Although, the Act was repealed by the Equality Act 2010 on 8 April 2010, the core anti-discrimination laws under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 are also applicable under the Equality Act 2010.


Both the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010 apply to men and women regardless of age. The Acts cover apprentices, employees, self-employed and in certain cases ex-employees.


The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 introduced a number of sex discrimination offences:

  1. Direct sex discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably because of their sex, marital status or gender reassignment. This form of discrimination can take many forms such as: unequal pay for doing the same job, change of working pattern, dismissal due to pregnancy or unfair selection criteria for promotion or recruitment.
  1. 2.       Indirect sex discrimination is less obvious and arises where the same requirement or condition is equally applied to both men and women, but the ultimate proportion of one sex that can satisfy the exact requirements is significantly smaller than the proportion of the other sex. Importantly, this type of discrimination covers also part-time workers as it has been proven that most part-time workers are women. Providing that you can prove that the requirement is not essential for the role and it puts you at a disadvantage compared to men (i.e. because they do not bear the same caring responsibilities such as caring for children), you will be able to satisfy the criteria for indirect sex discrimination claim.


  1. 3.       Victimisation or Harassment arises where a person is exposed to any unwanted conduct related to any of the protected characteristics such as sex or marital status; and that unwanted conduct affects that person’s personal dignity or creates an intimidating, degrading, hostile, humiliating or offensive atmosphere for that person. The above also applies to any situations in which a person witnesses victimisation of the other and such causes their dignity to be violated. Sexual harassment may also arise in circumstances where an individual rejects the unwanted conduct related to sex and as a result is treated in an unfair manner. The most common examples of sexual harassment include:

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  • Unwanted physical contact or gestures;
  • Inappropriate jokes or comments about a woman’s appearance;
  • Sexual insinuations;
  • Unwanted communication such as emails, phone calls or text messages.
  1. 4.       Pregnancy or Maternity Leave

Dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity leave constitutes not only direct sex discrimination but also is classed as an automatic unfair dismissal regardless of whether or not the employee has worked for the employer for more than 12 months. Unlike, in the case of unfair dismissal, discrimination on the grounds of sex has not got any limits on the level of compensation that can be awarded.


As with all legal matters, each case is different and will depend on the type of discrimination complained of, the evidence available and how the situation is handled by employer and employee and if lawyers are involved, how skilful they are both in terms of knowledge of the law, tactics and negotiation skills.

In order to successfully claim sex discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, a person complaining has to establish that they were more likely than not disadvantaged on the grounds of gender. The defendant will then have a chance to present a defence. In most cases, the ultimate outcome will vastly depend on the amount of actual evidence available. Therefore, it is vital to preserve any copies of correspondence such as letters, emails or text messages and keep a log of the key incidents and dates on which they took place.


It is difficult to establish how much compensation you can get without looking into the specific details of your case. Compensation in sex discrimination cases usually includes the following:

  • Loss of Earnings;
  • Injury to Feelings;
  • Psychiatric Injury;
  • Ancillary Losses;
  • Interest.