From Russia with Love? – Dress size, weight and discrimination

While sifting through this week’s news, we here at Gelbergs lifted our jaws off the floor as we read a case involving Evgenia Magurina, a flight attendant in Russia who was openly discriminated against by her employer for her weight and appearance.

Ms Magurina brought a case alleging that her employer Aeroflot discriminated against her on multiple occasions. She said that in 2016 staff had to be ‘measured’ and ‘photographed’, after which she was told she had  ‘big cheeks and a big bust’ and that she ‘should wear a sports bra’. When she confronted senior managers about this, she was told that she did not meet the minimum ‘size limit’ of 48 in Russia, equivalent to a UK size 14. She further alleged that her “glamorous” airline routes were replaced by local overnight ones which resulted in a 30% pay cut and her bonus drastically reduced. This was the final straw that caused her to take legal action.

The airline rejected her allegations of discrimination, stating that they had reduced Ms Magurina’s bonus because ‘every extra kilo of (her) weight cost the airline more in fuel’, and that their policy was based on the plane’s narrow corridors and their crew’s health, rather than Ms Magurina’s appearance. 

Ms Magurina won her case, as the judge declared the airline’s policies were unlawful.

An openly discriminatory story like this is extremely rare in the UK. Generally employers know better than to openly impose such obviously sexist and discriminatory practices.  Discrimination here is much more subtle. If an employer treats someone less favourably because of their sex, age, race and ethnicity etc., this would fall foul of the Equality Act 2010. Body weight is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, however sex is.  In Ms Magurina’s case for example it seems that only the female flight attendants were required to be a certain size. This would equate to sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

What does the Equality Act 2010 cover?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits treating someone less favourably because of a protected characteristic. It also prohibits victimisation, harassment and implementing policies or practices that put someone at a disadvantage because of a protected characteristic. The protected characteristics are:

• age;
• disability;
• gender reassignment;
• marriage and civil partnership;
• pregnancy and maternity;
• race;
• religion or belief;
• sex;
• sexual orientation. 

Does it only apply to the workplace?

No. The Act will not only protect a person at work, but in many other areas as well. These include:

• in education;
• as a consumer;
• when using public services;
• when buying or renting property;
• as a member or guest of a private club or association.

What should I do if I am being discriminated against?

There are many things you can do, and one of the first steps you should take is to document the discrimination and keep a record of each instance when you have felt discriminated against. You should also complain directly to the person who is discriminating against you, or you can raise a complaint to a colleague or HR if this is easier. Before you take the plunge and make a claim to the Employment Tribunal, speak to a solicitor to assess the merits of your complaints and your options. One option could be a severance or exit package as an alternative to litigation which can be expensive, stressful and time consuming.

Our employment team deals with all elements of Employment Law including the Equality Act 2010. If you have any questions regarding the matters discussed in this blog or have faced any sort of discrimination whilst at work, please contact Gelbergs’ Employment Team on 0207 226 0570 or email hr@gelbergs.co.uk .

Remember always take advice for your particular circumstances!