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Marital Discrimination

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[Thanks to Ed McFarlane of Deminos HR for preparing this case summary]

Is it unlawful discrimination on the grounds of marital status if a spouse is dismissed (or suffers some other detriment) on the grounds of being married to a particular person? 

No, says the EAT (Underhill P) in Hawkins v Atex Group, unless the ground for the less favourable treatment is specifically marriage, as opposed to a close relationship which takes the form of marriage.

The Claimant was employed for less than a year by a company her husband managed when a policy prohibiting employment of close relatives was implemented, leading to her (and her daughter's) dismissal. An employment tribunal struck out her claim of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of marital status, and her appeal failed. 

The EAT observed that in this case, there was no general rule or criterion applied by the employer about married women, the decision to dismiss applied to the Claimant and her daughter, and the Respondent was not motivated, in whole or in part, by the fact that the Claimant was married to her husband. 

The EAT considered and departed from the recent case of Dunn v Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management under which detriments arising from being married to a particular person, not only being married, could found a marital status discrimination complaint, and doubted some of the reasoning in Dunn. So there is a conflict of authority on this point. The EAT noted that it had been referred to an authority not cited in Dunn.