Employment Tribunal Finds That Royal Navy Discriminated Against Female Officer

Royal Navy sex discrimination case


A Southampton Employment Tribunal has unanimously ruled in favour of a Chief Petty Officer, Jacqueline Cartner, who brought a case of sex discrimination against the Royal Navy, alleging she was passed over for promotion because she was a woman.

The Tribunal held that the Royal Navy had discriminated against Mrs Cartner contrary to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. It also made recommendations for reform as it found the Navy’s promotion system “a matter of concern” and the procedure employed by the Promotion Board was “primitive”.

The case concerned the decision of the Royal Navy’s annual Promotion Board in 2008, where Jacqueline Cartner was the only female candidate considered for promotion against a much higher number of male candidates. She claimed that she was directly discriminated against in that she was not promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer despite being a much better candidate than those male officers who were promoted.  She has carried out the role of Warrant Officer in an acting capacity since February 2006 and continues to do so. None of her other competitors had performed at this level.

She also asserted that she was seen as less worthy of promotion on the grounds of her non-seagoing status and that this was indirectly discriminatory since she was among a group of Servicewomen who had been assured that this would not impair either career progression or promotion prospects.

Jacqueline Cartner was selected as the NATO Military Member of the Year in 2000 and awarded an MBE in 2001.  She had received excellent appraisals throughout her career, having been promoted to each and every rank faster than every one of her competitors and regularly outperformed other male peers.

Her solicitor, Kam Bains of law firm Irwin Mitchell, says: “Jacqueline believed that all these achievements were overlooked by the 2008 Promotion Board because of her gender. She pursued an internal grievance about the matter but, when this was inadequately investigated and then rejected, felt she had no option but to pursue legal action.”

The Tribunal heard evidence from Mrs Cartner and a number of senior Royal Navy Officers.

Mrs Cartner joined the Royal Navy in 1988, aged eighteen.  She has been eligible for promotion to Warrant Officer since 2005 but has not been selected. Historically, there have been very few female Warrant Officers within her branch of the Royal Navy, Abovewater Warfare Tactical, and only one at any one time.  Warrant Officer is the highest non-commissioned officer rank in the Royal Navy and carries additional status, pay and pension benefits and an automatic ten year extension of service.

Jacqueline, whose husband is a Royal Navy Officer, has two young children.  She retains non-seagoing status from when the non-seagoing Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) was merged into the Navy.  Official assurance was given that all female personnel who chose to retain their non-seagoing status would not be disadvantaged with regard to promotion and career prospects.

The Royal Navy defended Jacqueline’s claim by arguing that the 2008 promotion selections were made on merit alone and not influenced by any considerations of gender. The Navy denied any suggestion of institutional sexism.

The Tribunal unanimously ruled in favour of Mrs Cartner’s claims. It declared that she had “the right not to be discriminated against as a woman and to be properly and fairly assessed for promotion in accordance with the undertaking given by the Royal Navy upon her transfer from the Women’s Royal Naval Service to the Royal Navy”.

Mrs Cartner’s record of service and achievements were compared against those whom the 2008 Promotion Board had selected. The Tribunal ruled that it “cannot say upon the evidence before it that this board was adopting a fair procedure irrespective of the gender of the candidate”.

The Tribunal found: “the promotion system a matter of concern.  There is a lack of training for board members and a risk of building in bad habits and allowing the intrusion of discrimination, whether real or perceived.  No records are kept.  The guidelines were clearly misunderstood, ignored or unknown”.

It also held that the Board’s procedure “as described involved no establishment of criteria and evaluation of the same and perhaps therefore no marking against criteria but a general judgement based upon subjectivity…”.

The Tribunal also found that the “procedure employed was frankly primitive and the good human resources practice of establishing criteria, valuing those criteria and then marking against them was something alien to the members of the board. The result was an almost total exclusion of fact.”

Among other recommendations were that the Royal Navy reform the promotion system and provide proper training for officers involved, with particular focus upon writing appraisal reports that “conform with the equality and diversity policy” and that a monitoring process be put in place to ensure that “the promotion procedure is being carried out fairly to all candidates and for equality and diversity purposes”.

Mrs Cartner says: “This has been a very long and painful road, for both me and my family, and I am sad that it has had to come this far. However, I am glad that the Tribunal ruling has served to vindicate my claims of sex discrimination.”
The Tribunal was held in the autumn and Judgement was delivered last week. Jacqueline Cartner’s case will now be set down for a Remedy hearing to determine the level of compensation that the Royal Navy must pay her.

Kam Bains and Samantha Owen of Irwin Mitchell acted for Mrs Cartner and she was represented at the Tribunal by barrister Phil Thompson of Pendragon Chambers in Swansea. Jacqueline Cartner is prohibited from talking directly to the media as she remains in service with the Navy.