Economist Olwen Renowden wins sex discrimination case against Office for National Statistics

Tuesday 26 February 2019

David Renton represented Olwen Renowden and was instructed by Jane Copley of Prospect.

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Economist Olwen Renowden has won a sex discrimination case against the Office for National Statistics (ONS) after a tribunal agreed "favouritism" existed towards male staff. The ONS was ordered to pay compensation.

When she joined ONS in 2016, there were no female economists at Grade 6 (the most senior level), despite a headcount of over 114 economists.

In February 2017 two Grade 6 posts were advertised, both of which she applied for and both of which she was rejected for without being offered an interview. The tribunal heard that she was the only candidate who had previously been employed at this grade and had experience working for macro-economics employers such as the Bank of England and the IMF. Despite this, the jobs were given to male candidates with significantly less experience. When Olwen asked for feedback she was told to contact HR.

A third post was then created. The ONS claimed that this was in order to create an opportunity for male candidates who had passed the Grade 6 promotion board, but female candidates were not told that the extra vacancy was available.

Olwen raised a grievance and subsequent appeal which were not upheld, before she resigned from the ONS in August 2018.

The tribunal ruled in favour of Renowden's claims of direct sex discrimination and the ONS were ordered to pay  £19,000 compensation. The tribunal agreed that "favouritism" existed towards male staff members and that those who should have addressed it, failed to do so, concluding that "the approach to gender balance ... pointed towards a culture where discrimination and, in particular, sex discrimination, is not properly understood by those who are required to ensure its elimination".

Prospect senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns, quoted in Union News, said:

"The finding of the tribunal puts employers on notice that unequal employment practices will not be tolerated. It also sends a message to anyone who has suffered at the hands of their employer that they can expect redress, and that unions are standing by to help their members achieve justice."

Jane Copley, Prospect legal officer who instructed David Renton in the case, told the Huffington Post:

“We are pleased with this result, not least because this has a much wider impact than just on the individual and we hope this sends a strong message to employers that lip-service in respect of gender balance will not be tolerated and they can expect to be challenged on it”.

This case has been reported in the press including Financial Times, Huffington Post and Union News.

David Renton is a member of the Garden Court Chambers Employment law, discrimination and professional regulation team.

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