Sex Discrimination Claim Dismissed: London Underground Upholds Saturday Work Policy

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Sex Discrimination Claim Dismissed: London Underground Upholds Saturday Work Policy
Photo Credits - Felix Hanspach via Unsplash

A female train driver lost her sex discrimination claim, alleging that the London Underground had discriminated against her by requiring her to work weekends with childcare responsibilities. Below, we review what happened and clarify precisely what sex discrimination is.

A Failed Sex Discrimination Claim

Train Driver’s Temporary Flexible Working

Ms N Jones has been a train operator for the London Underground since 2001. From 2005, she was stationed at the Hainault depot, which operated a syndicate that allowed drivers to switch shifts.

In 2013, she gave birth and wished to avoid working on Saturdays to fulfil her childcare responsibilities. This was because her partner, a bus driver, had to work every weekend, and she needed shifts that alternated with his. As such, she made flexible working requests in November of that year; however, her requests were denied the following month.

Instead, the London Underground granted Ms N Jones leave for the first three Saturdays in January 2014. During this three-week period, they accommodated her scheduling requests and alternated her Sunday shifts.

Subsequently, a temporary agreement was made for the train operator only to be scheduled to work every other Saturday.  Then, the syndicate would swap the dates she was scheduled for. If this weren’t possible, the London Underground would exchange her Saturday shifts with one of her weekday rest days.

Temporary Agreement is Terminated

This temporary agreement remained in effect for many years until she learned in a meeting in November 2020 that it would be terminated on 26 December. As a result, Ms N Jones appealed the decision in a meeting on 15 April 2021. 

Here, she claimed she’d had a flexible working agreement that had progressed to a local agreement since 2013. She also made a flexible working application at the meeting’s conclusion, which she and Hainault’s train operations manager signed.

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Later that month, the London Underground informed her that her “flexible working appeal” had been unsuccessful. They believed that fulfilling her request would negatively impact the quality of service for their customers due to inadequate coverage of weekend shifts. Despite this, they agreed to extend her previous agreement until 15 May to enable her to make alternative childcare arrangements.

However, even though Ms N Jones was informed about the status of her previous agreement, her new flexible working request wasn’t addressed. As such, she chased for an update but learned that it, too, had been rejected.

The Sex Discrimination Claim is Made

Because the train operator’s request had been rejected, she decided to file a harassment and bullying complaint through an internal procedure in June. She made a sex discrimination claim, alleging that the employer had breached flexible working policies and legislation.

This complaint was made whilst she was off work sick following an adverse reaction to a Covid vaccination. Upon her return, she was given temporary additional duties due to still being unable to undertake her everyday tasks. Unfortunately, this meant she was assigned to the Liverpool Street Station, where she couldn’t rearrange her shifts through the syndicate.

Then, on 18 August, the train driver learned her bullying and harassment complaint had been dismissed. As a result, she began ACAS early conciliation before submitting a sex discrimination claim to an employment tribunal in September.

The Employment Tribunal’s Judgment

When the tribunal reviewed the case, they highlighted errors with the train driver’s and her employer’s wording. They stated that her claims of having a flexible working agreement since 2013 were incorrect since this wasn’t an official agreement. Furthermore, they found the employer was wrong in stating her “flexible working appeal” had been rejected since the appeal regarded the unofficial agreement mentioned above.

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Following this, the tribunal turned to the main focus of the sex discrimination claim, the claims themselves. Unfortunately for the female train driver, though, the tribunal favoured her employer. They reasoned that, whilst working weekends may particularly disadvantage women due to “the accepted greater responsibility for childcare”, her employer had a legitimate reason for rejecting her requests. That being that her absence during weekends would impact the quality the train service could provide its customers.

London Underground train driver loses sex discrimination claim after tribunal rules they had a legitimate reason to deny her flexible working request.

As such, her sex discrimination claim was dismissed. Yet, the train driver didn’t walk away empty-handed. Due to the employer’s failure to reasonably process the April 2021 flexible working request, the tribunal awarded her £2,720.

They stated, “​​The respondent is a very large employer. It is highly regulated and unionised. It has many policies and procedures in place. We find that there is little excuse for the respondent getting the process of dealing with a flexible working request as wrong as it did in this case.”

Get Help with Your Sex Discrimination Claim

Despite the train driver’s sex discrimination claim proving unsuccessful, others may have a legitimate case and be unsure how to proceed. If you’re in such circumstances and want expert advice, contact Redmans Solicitors today. They are employment law specialists and could examine your case before advising on your possible next steps.

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