In this article we look at the allegations made by a female engineer at American manufacturing giant Tesla, which has brought into the spotlight the issue of discrimination within the male-dominated manufacturing sector.

The employee has publicly announced her claims against Tesla for discrimination, following the footsteps of a former engineer who went public with her claims of sexual harassment and discrimination against ride-sharing company Uber.  The Tesla employee claims include being paid a lower salary than men doing the same work as her and that she was persistently denied promotion in favour of less qualified men that the company promoted less qualified men. The employee also claims to have experienced harassment by her male colleagues on the factory floor.

While discrimination can of course occur in any industry, it can be more prevalent in industries where one gender is dominant (be it male or female). It can be that the dominance of one gender within the industry or workplace means that those of the opposite gender are overlooked or marginalised (whether intentionally or otherwise), or sometimes it may just be that attitudes in certain industries are traditionally discriminatory against one gender. 

Whatever the cause, everyone is protected from workplace discrimination relating to dismissal, terms and conditions of employment, pay and benefits, promotion opportunities, training and recruitment.

As a traditionally male-dominated industry, manufacturing employers should be extra vigilant against workplace discrimination. It is important for employers in the sector to be aware of the protection afforded to workers, the potential claims that may be brought, and the employer’s liability for any acts of discrimination which do occur.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 sets out certain grounds upon which discrimination is deemed unlawful (the ‘protected characteristics’). The protected characteristics are age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, sexual orientation and race.

There are various types of discrimination set out in the 2010 Act that apply to the protected characteristics:

Direct discrimination

Treating a person less favourably because of a protected characteristic

Indirect discrimination Implementing a policy, criteria or practice which is applicable to everyone but puts persons with a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage
Harassment Engaging in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of either violating the victim’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the victim
Victimisation Subjecting an individual to detriment as a result of complaining about discrimination

Liability for unlawful acts of discrimination

For the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, anything done by an employee in the course of their employment is treated as having also been done by the employer, regardless of whether the employee's acts were done with the employer's knowledge or approval.

Equal pay

You may be aware of the gender pay gap regulations which come into force in April 2017. These regulations require organisations with 250 or more employees to publish certain information about the gender pay gap within the organisation in a wide scale attempt to combat the gender pay gap.

It is important to note however that this is a different requirement to that under the Equality Act 2010 for men and women to be paid the same for the same work or work of equal value.


About the author

Tina Chander Partner

Tina is head of our employment law team. She deals with contentious and non-contentious employment law issues.