If you have been treated unfairly because of your sexual orientation, you may be able to file a discrimination claim in the civil courts or the employment tribunal.
What is sexual orientation discrimination?
Sexual orientation is defined by the law as an individual’s sexual attraction towards persons of the same sex, persons of the opposite sex and persons of either sex. It includes how you choose to express your sexual orientation, such as through your appearance or the places you visit.
Sexual orientation discrimination is when an individual is treated differently because of their sexual orientation in one of the situations covered by the Equality Act 2010, as discussed below. This differs from gender reassignment discrimination which covers discrimination against transgender people.
In which situations are you protected from discrimination?
You are protected by the law from discrimination when it occurs in the following places:
- Employment and training;
- Businesses providing goods and services (e.g. banking and retail);
- Clubs and associations; and
- Activities carried out by public authorities (e.g. the NHS and the police).
How can you be discriminated against?
You may have been discriminated in any of the following four ways:
- Direct: If you have been treated less favourably because of your sexual orientation. For example, a hotel manager refusing to book you and your same-sex partner a double bedroom because of your sexual orientation.
- Indirect: If you have been put at a disadvantage by an organisation’s policy or practice when compared to persons of a different sexual orientation. For example, a club’s policy offering free membership to the husbands and wives of its members, but not to civil partners.
- Harassment: If you have been subjected to unwanted conduct which violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Harassment can include jokes or ‘banter’, insults or threats, being excluded from social events, spreading gossip, outing someone, and asking intrusive questions.
- Victimisation: If you have been treated less favourably compared to other employees because you have complained about sexual orientation discrimination. This would cover situations where you have brought proceedings under the Equality Act and where you have given evidence or information in connection with someone else’s proceedings. For example, your employer dismissing you because you made a sexual harassment complaint at work.
It is also illegal to discriminate against you because:
You are perceived to have a particular sexual orientation, even if you do not (known as discrimination by perception); and
You know someone who has a particular sexual orientation, such as a family or friend (known as discrimination by association).
Where should you file your claim?
You should file your claim in the county court if you have faced discrimination in relation to services and public functions, access to premises, education or associations. You should file your claim in the employment tribunal if you have faced discrimination in an employment setting.
What remedies are available to you?
If you are successful in your claim, you may be awarded compensation for any loss you have suffered (such as a loss of earnings if you have been unfairly dismissed), and an award for injury to feelings.
There is no limit to the amount of compensation that can be awarded for sexual orientation discrimination.
What are the time limits to bring a claim?
If you are an employee and you wish to file a claim against your employer in the employment tribunal, this must be submitted within 3 months less one day of the discriminatory act. This time limit is strict and will only be extended in certain circumstances. If it is not an employment claim, it must be brought in the civil courts within 6 months less one day of the discriminatory act.