An employment tribunal has awarded a record but undisclosed payout (although thought to be between £350,000 and £500,000) to two women, Margaret Durman and Penny Smith from Cornwall who they found were unfairly dismissed on grounds of their sexual orientation. Both were employed as nurses in a care centre run by Barchester Healthcare and were dismissed in September 2005 with the company claiming gross misconduct after allegations of physical and sexual abuse of patients were made.
The tribunal found there was no evidence to back up the allegations against them, that a proper investigation would have cleared them and that they had been the victims of sexual orientation discrimination.
The tribunal report stated rhat "It is hard to see how any dismissal, conducted by an employer of such size, could be so very bad unless sexual orientation discrimination was the root cause of it. We are not satisfied that a heterosexual couple would have been treated the same."
Miss Durman and Miss Smith had been together for a year when they were sacked from Kernow House care home in Launceston in September 2005. Miss Durman, a registered nurse for 35 years, had been manager of the home since 2001 and both had exemplary records. Following their dismissal, however, they were put on the Protection of Vulnerable Adults list, which meant they could no longer work as nurses.
They have since been removed from the list. However the effect that this has had on their lives, careers and families will have been devastating.
Barchester Healthcare, which looks after 100,000 peoplenationwide, said its procedures had been reviewed in light of the tribunal findings. A spokesperson was reported in the press as having stated "The sexual orientation of its staff is of no interest to Barchester. However, I could not find anything relating to equality policies in employment on their website.
Barchester Healthcare was named as one of the top 100 companies in the Sunday Times in 2006 but showed a 24% turnover in staff and is named as beong a front runner in good practice in the recruitment and retention of older staff. Obviously it seems if you are open about your sexuality!