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Queen's University


Under U.K. human rights law, does sexual harassment amount to discrimination on the ground of sex, as it does in Canada?


In 1980, two male laboratory technicians at Bellahouston Academy, Coles and Reid, subjected their female co-worker, Porcelli, to a campaign of vindictiveness, some of which was sexual in nature. In 1983, Porcelli transferred to another school and filed a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act (1975). A Scottish Industrial Tribunal ruled that there had been no discrimination on the grounds of sex. Using a male comparator, it surmised that the two respondents would have treated a man equally badly. The Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned this decision. Although the sex Discrimination Act (1975) did not, in 1985, outlaw sexual harassment per say, it did outlaw the subjection of female employees to any "detriment" during the course of employment. Forcing Porcelli to transfer to another school in order to escape from sexual harassment in her own school was founded to constitute such a detriment. Therefore, in these circumstances, sexual harassment amounted to discrimination on the ground of sex. (Porcelli v Strathclyde Regional Council (1985) CR 177, [1984] IRLR 467).

Legal Questions

  1. Did Coles and Reid sexually harass Porcelli?
  2. If so, were the consequences of their actions detrimental to the appellant and therefore an act of discrimination ?

Employment Appeal Tribunal Ruling

  1. Yes.
  2. Yes

Employment Appeal Tribunal Reasoning

  1. When the two men brushed up against the woman, compared her body parts to those of female models displayed in magazines, and asked her if she wanted a screw (while holding a screw in their hands) or if she had any use for a beaker (whose shape resembled that of a penis), they were committing acts of sexual harassment.
  2. This sexual harassment had adverse consequences affecting the well-being and the employment of the employee. In these circumstances, sexual harassment amounted to discrimination on the ground of sex.


In 2002, the Equal Treatment Directive (76/207/European Economic Community) was amended to include definitions of harassment as sexual harassment. The U.K. is subject to EEC directives. By 2005, the Sexual Discrimination Act will have changed to reflect the amendments to the Equal Treatment Directive.

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