An Employment Tribunal decision involving an Ad Agency has highlighted the dangers for employers of taking an overly aggressive approach to reducing gender pay gaps. It also provides a reminder that all discrimination is unlawful, even where the victims are from a historically privileged group.

With a high published gender pay gap, Wunderman Thompson’s creative director had presented a vision to the advertising agency’s workforce to “obliterate” its reputation for being full of “straight white men”.

Following the presentation, complaints were raised with HR that the presentation had shown a bias against straight white men, and internal misunderstandings and tensions had continued as a result.

Wunderman Thompson subsequently made two creative directors redundant. Both were straight white British men and both had been among those who had complained about the “obliteration” presentation.

Both employees brought various claims to the employment tribunal, arguing that the redundancy selection was an act of sex discrimination with the aim of removing higher paid men to address the gender pay gap.

The tribunal held that while it was acceptable and reasonable for the employer to take action to build a positive reputation and reduce the gender pay gap, in these two specific cases, it was found the reason for the claimants’ dismissals was their sex. The tribunal considered a scenario with hypothetical senior female comparators and decided they would not have been treated in the same way. Indeed, the ET noted that in the days leading up to the claimants’ selection for redundancy, a senior female creative had been ‘saved’ from redundancy for being female, among other grounds.

The ET upheld the claims of unfair dismissal, sex discrimination and victimisation. The claims for  race, age and sexual orientation discrimination, and whistleblowing dismissal, were rejected.


With gender pay gap issues more prevalent than ever in the economy and labour market, and with gender pay gap reporting a mandatory requirement for certain employers, organisations are now taking real action to address pay gap issues, but this cannot come at the expense of other areas of discrimination.

This case highlights related discrimination risks for employers when seeking to resolve gender pay gap issues, particularly if the action to address any pay gaps risks unlawfully discriminating against another group or class of individual.

If there is a gender pay gap in your organisation, you should put in place an action plan to address this but be cautious that your action plan does not go so far as to discriminate against one particular sex.