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RAF officer wins victimisation tribunal after being sacked for complaints

An RAF officer was unsuccessful in his claims that he had been discriminated for being male, Scottish and Christian, but was successful in his claim of victimisation

An RAF officer who was dismissed after accusing 42 officers of "extreme bullying" has won a victimisation case against the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Wing commander Allan Steele joined the Legal Branch of the RAF in 2003.

The tribunal was told that the RAF had given Steele a written warning after he was convicted in court of threatening and abusive behaviour in 2016.

The three-month formal warning, issued in July 2018, was intended to allow him to reflect on this behaviour and move forward, the tribunal heard.

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The following month Steele complained about a proposed posting at RAF Coningsby as he would be working underneath an officer he believed had been promoted over his head.

In September 2018, he complained of bullying, harassment, intimidation and victimisation from the senior leadership of the Legal Branch.

He said his religious observance as a Christian, Scottish accent and physical characteristics had been commented on in a derogatory document in 2015.

He also said he had been unfairly passed over for a promotion in 2017 and 2018.

The tribunal heard that Steele was warned by three senior officers not to challenge this treatment because it would cause alienation.

After starting work at RAF Coningsby, he made another complaint of bullying when his senior officer failed to formally bring his warning to an end.

In 2019, senior officers decided Steele did not want to work with fellow legal officers and may have to be dismissed.

Steele applied to have his commission terminated, effectively resigning, but the RAF wanted to dismiss him instead to make it clear his behaviour was unacceptable.

The judge, Gary Tobin, said: “They believed that the interest of these 42 mainly senior officers ought to prevail... irrespective of the harsh consequences on [Steele] of losing his job, his livelihood and his reputation.”

 Steele's compensation has not yet been decided.

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Charlie Wood, senior associate in the employment team at SAS Daniels said this was found to be victimisation because he was fired for making a complaint, which is legally classed as a protected act. 

He told HR magazine: "The most common claims brought under the Equality Act 2010 are those of direct and indirect discrimination. However, an employee is also protected from being subject to a detriment at work because they did a protected act – or because it is believed they may do a protected act in the future.

“Here, the protected act was making complaints of discrimination, which led to him being bullied and ultimately dismissed from the RAF.”

Wood emphasised the importance of dealing with employee complaints fairly, no matter the circumstances.

He added: “Whenever any employee raises allegations, of any nature, they should be dealt with appropriately and in line with normal internal processes. Employee’s should not be treated differently, or put to a detriment for raising what they feel are legitimate concerns. 

“I would always advise any organisation that is unsure how they should deal with such queries to seek proper legal advice as soon as they can.”