Cloisters helps chief nurse win sex discrimination case against MoD

Cloisters’ barrister Caroline Musgrave has secured victory for military nurse Wendy Williams in a sex discrimination claim against the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Group Captain Williams, the highest-ranking nurse in the Royal Air Force (RAF), brought the case after being passed over for promotion in July 2011 in favour of a male doctor with four years less experience. The Royal College of Nursing instructed Musgrave as the counsel for Williams.

The Treasury Solicitor instructed Edmund Beever, head of the employment group at Birmingham set St Philips Chambers, for the MoD.

Tribunal chair, Judge Victoria Dean, said that Williams was discriminated against because of her sex when she was not put forward for a promotion to a rank 1* commanding post despite being described an ”outstanding success” and a ”leader and inspirer of others”.

The outcome of the case is likely to have significant ramifications for women in roles across the MoD, supporting their right to reach the highest levels of leadership based on their skills and abilities. It also has significant ramifications for inequalities in retirement provision and leadership training within the RAF.

The tribunal found that the decision-making process which preferred the male doctor over Williams, was ”entirely subjective and unsustainable on the evidence before us”. The decision-makers failed to carry out an objective competency-based assessment of Williams’ skills and ability but rather rubber-stamped the “partisan and not unbiased” account of the influential voice of the Air Vice Marshall who preferred the doctor within his own chain of command to her.

The tribunal also reflected on a number of other failings. These include the different retirement ages with doctors retiring at 58 and nurses at 55, the unjustified restriction of certain management posts to doctors and the preference shown to doctors to attend an advanced command course to aid promotion.

“The Equality Act 2010 Code of Practice on Employment (2011) requires employers to follow an objective competency based assessment of skills against job requirements. The RAF have paid the price for failing to comply and have been exposed for making recruitment decisions based on their ‘partisan and not unbiased’ subjective judgment,” said Musgrave.

“I admire Wendy Williams’ determination and courage to expose and break the glass ceiling so that other women and nurses can reach their full potential in service for the MoD,” she added.