Countryfile presenter is unlawfully discriminated against

10 Feb 2011

There has been a lot in the news this month about the Tribunal claim brought against the BBC by the ex-Countryfile presenter, Miriam O’Reilly.

In 2008, Countryfile was moved from its daytime slot to a primetime evening slot. As part of the move, the BBC attempted to rebrand the show and make it more appealing to a wider audience. In doing so, three female presenters (aged between 43-51) were axed from the show. One male presenter (aged 43) was also told he would no longer be required, although he was later taken back on.

John Craven, who has presented Countryfile since its inception, was retained (aged 68). Following the rebranding and time slot change, the programme was to be presented by individuals whose ages ranged from 26 to 38.

Ms O’Reily brought claims for sex and age discrimination separately, but also alleged that she had been discriminated against on grounds of the combination of her sex and her age. Finally, she also alleged that she had been victimised by the BBC because she had raised the issue of discrimination, in that the BBC had failed to offer her suitable alternative work.

The Tribunal accepted that she had been discriminated against on grounds of age, but not on grounds of sex, since two of the remaining presenters were women. It also considered that, whilst the only presenter older than Ms O’Reily who was retained was a man (John Craven), he was retained because of his reputation and close association with the show.

The Tribunal accepted that Ms O’Reily had been victimised due to her complaint of discrimination.

The Tribunal also stated that it is unlawful to discriminate on grounds of a combination of characteristics, although in this case it did not apply.

The Equality Act has express provisions relating to discrimination on grounds of a combination of two protected characteristics. These provisions were due to be introduced later this year, but it is not clear whether these provisions will come into force following the election of the Coalition Government.

It appears from this decision that, with the correct facts, an Employment Tribunal would be willing to make a finding of combined discrimination to protect an employee who had been discriminated against due to a combination of protected characteristics. Employers therefore need to be careful when making their decisions (and in defending any proceedings already ongoing) that they do not leave themselves open to a claim for combined discrimination.

We will keep you updated of the Government’s proposals in relation to the introduction of Combined Discrimination.