Unfortunately, race isn’t the only protected characteristic the Government have got into trouble over this month. Shahmir Sanni, a Leave campaign volunteer, disclosed information about how the Vote Leave campaign might have bypassed electoral law to fund the campaign.
In response, Theresa May’s secretary, Stephen Parkinson, who had been involved in the Vote Leave campaign and had had a romantic relationship with Mr Sanni, issued a statement denying the allegations and also outed Mr Sanni as gay. Mr Sanni, who had not publicly come out, also lost his job at Tax Payers Alliance, which was founded by the Vote Leave CEO. These events highlight some important employment law issues.
Firstly, sexual orientation discrimination. Direct discrimination is out – Mr Sanni would have been smeared whether he was gay, straight or otherwise. Outing Mr Sanni as gay is also not a result of a policy so indirect discrimination is out too.
However, it could be argued that this conduct is harassment. Outing Mr Shani as gay could be seen as violating his dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him.
Mr Sanni had not come out publicly and many of his close friends and family did not know he was gay. By outing him against his will it could be argued that his dignity has been violated. Mr Sanni is also of Pakistani heritage and some of his family still reside there. In Pakistan it is illegal to be gay and by outing him, Mr Parksinson could have jeopardised their safety, this has created a hostile environment for them and him.
Next, as a whistleblower, Mr Sanni is protected by the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1998. The act states that no whistleblower should suffer detriment as a result of making a disclosure in the public interest.
Being outed as gay, especially in front of the national press, could be seen as a detriment as well as being a discriminatory act. Additionally, losing his job is another detriment and if it was due to the disclosure renders the dismissal automatically unfair.
Finally, this is also a data protection issue. Anyone who holds information about a data subject’s sexual orientation holds sensitive personal data that should be processed respectfully. Leaking this information without the consent of the data subject is a breach of Mr Sanni’s rights and the fact the breach has jeopardised the safety of his family is a sign of how serious the breach is.
Mr Sanni is now suing the Government and Tax Payers Alliance and has set up a CrowdJustice page to help fund the litigation.