Senior RAF nurse wins damages in sexual discrimination case

Group Captain Wendy Williams was passed over for promotion in July 2011 in favour of a male doctor

The highest-ranking nurse in the Royal Air Force has won damages after bringing a sexual discrimination case against the Ministry of Defence.

Group Captain Wendy Williams brought the case after being passed over for promotion in July 2011 in favour of a male doctor. She claimed the MoD breached the Equalities Act 2010 by discriminating against her because of her gender when recruiting to a senior role for which she was recommended and fully qualified.

MoD figures show that six of the 470 highest-ranking jobs in the RAF were held by women last year, the tribunal heard.

Williams said: “Following this decision I hope that nurses in the Royal Air Force and the wider armed forces will have the opportunity to aspire to, and attain, more senior posts. I hope that nurses will also gain due recognition for their leadership, commitment and professionalism.

“This judgment represents an opportunity for the armed forces to scrutinise internal processes and practices and shatter glass ceilings. It should be used as a platform to ensure that appointments are made with regard to merit and competencies, and not with regard to a person’s gender or their membership of a professional body.”

Williams, a registered nurse and midwife who has served in the RAF since 1984, brought the case after being passed over by a promotion board. A group captain since 2003, she applied in 2011 to be made the RAF candidate for the tri-service role of commodore of the Defence Medical Group.

The candidature for the 1*-level role went to Group Captain John Gaffney, who had three-and-a-half years less service in that rank than Williams. This was despite her being recommended for promotion to a senior non-nursing role based on her excellent history within the service.

The tribunal was told that it was RAF procedure to fill medical 1* roles that were theoretically open to doctors and nurses only with doctors.

In its ruling the tribunal panel, led by the employment judge Veronica Dean, criticised the RAF for this practice and the low number of women in top ranks overall.

There was also scathing criticism of several senior officers, including Air Vice-Marshal Chris Morris, who the panel said had given the promotion board a “partisan and not unbiased” assessment of Gaffney, who was under his command at the time.

Air Vice-Marshal Mike Lloyd, now retired, who was in charge of RAF personnel at the time, was criticised for his lack of knowledge of discrimination legislation.

“Viewed with an objective eye against the job specification, we have considered all the evidence and find that for a number of reasons the claimant was not only equal to Group Captain Gaffney but that an objective review of her appraisals and those of Group Captain Gaffney would have led to the claimant being considered as the properly preferred candidate of the RAF,” the panel said.

“While the respondents acknowledge that both the claimant and Group Captain Gaffney were competent candidates for the …read more