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  • Female Engineer Was 'Only Woman in a Male-Dominated World'

    14th June 2017

    In Talbot v Costain Oil, Gas & Process Limited and Others, a female power station engineer who said that she was the only woman working in a male-dominated world – and suffered appalling sex discrimination as a result – has had her hopes of a substantial compensation award boosted following a decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

    Mrs Talbot is a highly experienced engineer who began her career in 1981. She had worked at the Sellafield nuclear power plant in the past, and in May 2014 was engaged to work there again on an agency basis, working for Costain Oil, Gas & Process Limited.

    Her job was to drive changes that were necessary to an important project. However, after just 12 weeks her contract was terminated because of 'business HR changes' and she was escorted off the premises.

    An Employment Tribunal (ET) subsequently found that Mrs Talbot's personality had been openly criticised by her male manager amidst a generally hostile environment and that he viewed the work he had allocated to her, which involved assembling 'work packages', as administrative paperwork and a waste of time. She, on the other hand, approached the assignment diligently, but was criticised by her manager for including too much information and for taking too long to complete the packages.

    At a meeting, the manager told her that he found her difficult to deal with because she was a woman engineer and that she was too pushy, forceful and generally unlikeable and should be gentler, kinder and nicer.

    He admitted that he would not have used the latter words had she been a man. Despite its findings of fact, the ET rejected Mrs Talbot's sex discrimination complaint on the basis that she had not proved that her treatment was because of, or related to, her sex.

    In overturning that decision, the EAT found that the ET had failed to consider the whole picture and a number of factors that pointed towards a finding of discrimination.

    It had approached the evidence in an overly fragmented manner and failed to make appropriate assessments of the reliability of the parties and witnesses. Those shortcomings amounted to an error of law and the case was sent back to a fresh ET for rehearing.

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