The Law and Discrimination

Business Insights

Our movement towards equity between the sexes, less discrimination and a more tolerant society took a step or two backwards during the kiss-gate incident at the recent Women's World Cup (when the Spanish football federation president held the head of one of the Spanish players with both hands and kissed her on the lips) suggests there is no such thing in practice. Laws exists to discourage misogyny, homophobia, discrimination, prejudice and sexism, but all of these still exist. They have just gone underground.

In the UK, since 2004 we have Civil Partnerships for same sex couples and in 2014, the same sex marriage Act became law. On the face of it there should be parity between heterosexual and homosexual partners. Legally there is, but in reality, there remains an underlying streak of prejudice relating to homophobia. Indeed, prejudices of all kinds remain.

Knowing and proving

As a reasonable person, one knows whether a raised voice and/or aggressive action is aimed at you because you are gay, a woman or of ethnic origins. But believing you have been subject to any kind of prejudice or discrimination is some distance from proving it. Concrete evidence—such as something in writing, or a voice or video recording—can be hard to come by. Leaving behind this type of proof is something that is easy to avoid if you are a perpetrator. Sometimes slipped mask takes self-control with it and something specifically derogatory is written or recorded or said in front of witnesses, but mostly it is not.

I have a female gay friend who heard raised voices outside her home and went out to investigate as she recognised the female voice of her immediate neighbour. The neighbour was engaging with a man standing in his garden opposite her neighbour. My friend had never previously spoken with the man. When she asked whether everything was alright, the man aggressively turned to her, told her to mind her own business and added that her boundary wall between her property and that of her opposite neighbour was coming down. The friend, who is a very strong independent woman, and well-integrated socially was unusually upset by this unprovoked aggressive treatment and was convinced it was fuelled by homophobia. There was nothing explicit in the words used to indicate this, but she just instinctively knew. She called the police and explained the incident to the two officers that arrived and they offered to visit the diagonally opposite neighbour.

Some months later, my friend requested the police report and was shocked to find that the police officers completely rejected her allegation and believed the neighbour when he said that it was just a spat and there was nothing in it. The police even stated in the report that there was definitely no ‘homophobia' involved as the neighbour had denied it.

Little changes

Unfortunately, this is not a unique occurrence. If a female worker complains about sexual harassment at work, it becomes the word of the victim against the perpetrator. Many years ago, when I worked in the property business, my boss was in the habit of commenting on women's attributes as they walked past the shopfront. Having informed him that I found it insulting and inappropriate, he just told me to lighten up and that if I wanted to ‘move up' the ladder, I would have to change my attitude. It was just a bit of ‘fun'.

I have had similar stories told to me in respect of discrimination due to ethnic origin. Being well educated, well qualified, with massive experience in the relevant field and having excellent references can sometimes not be enough to secure a job. Nothing will be said, but there will be a feeling. And that is not much to back a complaint.

Affecting change

Laws protect individuals legally. In theory. But in practice they don't prevent inequality or injustices or discrimination from actually happening. Perhaps going forward we should make complaints more often. This could be to the police under the umbrella of ‘Anti-Social Behaviour' (remembering to ask to see the police report), or to request a legal professional, perhaps a Licensed Paralegal, to write a letter to the perpetrator. Neither action may produce a satisfactory result, but the more it is addressed, the more it may affect a change in attitude.

By Amanda Hamilton, Patron. National Association of Licensed Paralegals


Amanda Hamilton is the Patron of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.


Twitter: @NALP_UK


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