Judge to rule on claims of BR bias against gays BR 'biased against gay staff over travel perks'

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The Independent Online

Legal Affairs Correspondent

The High Court is being asked to rule on an important test case on whether British Rail is acting unlawfully by refusing free travel to gay and lesbian partners of its staff.

Stonewall, the gay rights pressure group which is backing the case, sees it as a test of employment rights affecting all employers with non-discrimination policies, with implications for pensions and free health insurance.

Heterosexual partners of BR staff, including unmarried couples who have lived together for more than two years, are given travel concessions.

Lisa Grant, who has lived with her partner Gill Percy for more than three years, claims she should be entitled to the same rights. They have been encouraged by British Airways, which recently extended travel concessions to partners of either sex who have been registered with the company as a couple for 12 months.

Ms Grant is arguing that BR is in breach of her contract of employment. According to Ruth Harvey, Ms Grant's solicitor, BR has an equal opportunities policy which commits it to "ensuring all individuals are treated fairly and are valued irrespective of disability, face, gender, health, social class (and) sexual preference. No one is to receive less favourable treatment on any of the above grounds or is to be disadvantaged by requirements or conditions which cannot be shown to be justifiable".

Ms Grant is bringing a second test case to an industrial tribunal, arguing that refusing privileges to her partner is in breach of the European Union's equal pay directive. The European Court of Justice recently ruled that member states must not discriminate against transsexuals, but have in the past taken the view that equal pay rules on grounds of sex do not apply to gays and lesbians because both men and women are discriminated against.

Ms Harvey said she expected the High Court to rule by the middle of the year, and the tribunal by the end of the year.

Angela Mason, director of Stonewall, said: "Lisa Grant's sex, and the sex of her partner, bear no relation to her ability to do her job, so why should she be paid less than other people doing the same job."

BR said it could not comment because the case was sub judice.