Sex discrimination 'made firefighter fearful'

Discrimination Claim

27.10.2006

A female fire fighter told an employment tribunal that she became frightened for her own safety after sexual discrimination from her colleagues. The former Army officer is claiming compensation from Devon Fire and Rescue Service at a hearing in Exeter.

Sandra Tilke, a member of the Fire Officers' Association and a non-striker, she said the harassment caused her to be off work with stress and depression because she was discriminated against by male fire fighters on the grounds of her sex between October 2002 until April 2003, when members of the Fire Brigades Union went on strike.

She was off work for three months to May 2004 with work-related stress and anxiety and then finally went sick in December that year and never returned.

Sex discrimination claim

Mrs Tilke kept a diary of her harassment which she started in October 2002, and in her April entry she stated that her position had become untenable due to the harassment.

Nick Sproull, representing the DFRS, doubted this was a sex discrimination case, stating that an entry in her diary, which was started in October 2002, stated that her position had become untenable because she was not in the FBU, rather than because of her sex.

Mrs Tilke said that by April 2003 "her treatment had been going on a long time. In the end the situation became untenable. I was frightened for my own safety". She went on to say the harassment started in June or July 2002, a couple of months after she joined the Exeter station.

Employment law solicitor

Employment expert James Wright of national law firm Irwin Mitchell said All businesses and organisations need to be aware of the behaviour of all staff towards each other. Legislation exists to protect the interests of members of staff so that they do not feel victimised or harassed on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion, belief, and more recently, age. Legal protections have also developed whereby employers can be vicariously liable for the harassing acts of their employees whether these are linked to a discriminatory element or not.

It is incumbent on all managers in both the public and private sector to ensure that all staff are aware of what constitutes acceptable behaviour in the workplace.