RAF nurse Wendy Williams wins sexism tribunal

Group Captain Wendy Williams
Image caption Group Captain Wendy Williams joined the RAF in 1984

The highest ranking nurse in the Royal Air Force has won a sex discrimination case against the Ministry of Defence.

Group Captain Wendy Williams, 54, from Cambridge, brought the case after losing out on a promotion in July 2011 in favour of a male doctor.

The tribunal ruled Gp Capt Williams should have been the preferred candidate for the role but was passed over because she was a woman.

The RAF said it was taking legal advice before deciding whether to appeal.

In 2011 Gp Capt Williams, a registered nurse and midwife who joined the RAF in 1984, applied to be made the RAF candidate for the tri-service role of commodore of the Defence Medical Group, having been a group captain since 2003.

The one-star role went instead to Group Captain John Gaffney, who had three-and-a-half years less service in that rank than Gp Capt Williams.

'Subjective and unsustainable'

This was despite her being recommended for promotion to a senior non-nursing role based on her excellent history within the service.

The MoD argued that while both were suitable candidates, Gp Capt Gaffney was the most likely to succeed against candidates from other parts of the armed forces and was selected for that reason.

In addition, the tribunal was told it was the RAF's procedure to fill medical one-star roles that were theoretically open to doctors and nurses only with doctors.

The tribunal, led by employment judge Veronica Dean, ruled that Gp Capt Williams was not only equal to Gp Capt Gaffney, but should have been considered as the RAF's "properly preferred candidate".

It criticised the RAF for passing over nurses in favour of doctors and also for the low number of women in top ranks overall - amounting to between 1% and 1.3% of the total.

The tribunal said the MoD's rationale for giving the role to Gp Capt Gaffney was "entirely subjective and unsustainable" and concluded that Gp Capt Williams "was not selected because of her sex".

Gp Capt Williams, who was supported by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said she was pleased with the decision.

'Shatter glass ceilings'

"I hope that nurses in the Royal Air Force and the wider armed forces will have the opportunity to aspire to, and attain, more senior posts," she said.

"I hope that nurses will also gain due recognition for their leadership, commitment and professionalism.

"This judgment represents an opportunity for the armed forces to scrutinise internal processes and practices and shatter glass ceilings."

The RCN described the result as a "landmark" ruling and urged the MoD to take on board the recommendations made by the tribunal.

"It isn't right for female staff to be placed at a disadvantage when they get to a senior level," it said.

A spokesman for the RAF said: "We are disappointed with the outcome of the tribunal and will now consider the judgement in full.

"The RAF is fully committed to the Equality Act 2010 and has consistently received extensive recognition for its work on gender equality and in promoting career opportunities for women."