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Sexual Orientation Discrimination: Not the right move

25 July 2008

In one of the first such cases in the country, Suzanne Richards and Sarah Dobinson of Bury St Edmonds complained that their estate agent had unfairly discriminated against them by using the word ‘lesbians’ as a reference for their property on a website. In February this year, Suzanne Richards and Sarah Dobinson instructed the Bury St Edmonds office of national estate agents Jackson Stops & Staff  (JS&S) to sell their house. Suzanne and Sarah later checked the property website to look at the their property’s listing.  Both were upset to find that JS&S had used the word ‘lesbians’ as the reference for their property.  They were extremely anxious and fearful at the possible consequences of being ‘outed’ publicly in this way.  Not only that, when they raised the issue with the agents, they were shocked to receive a letter stating “We fail to see how we have discriminated against you”.

Following the involvement of Russell Jones & Walker solicitors (RJW), JS&S finally accepted they were liable and compensated Suzanne and Sarah for injury to their feelings.  They also agreed to provide discrimination and diversity training for their staff.

Suzanne and Sarah said:

"We were both shaking with disbelief and in tears when we read the property reference on the rightmove website.  We felt so violated.  We had entrusted these people, welcomed them into the most intimate parts of our home and this was how they could treat us.  We feel so strongly that nobody else should ever be treated like this again.”

Their solicitor, Eleanor Jennings of RJW, said:

“It is very clear from this case that the message does not seem to be getting through that businesses owe a duty not to discriminate when providing goods and services.  For many reasons, people take this type of discrimination on the chin and the treatment goes unchallenged. However, I hope this case will increase people’s awareness of their rights and show that taking action to enforce them can work.”