Childless women in forces could sue MoD

TENS of thousands of servicewomen who chose not to have a baby because they would lose their jobs may be able to claim compensation for 'emotional damage'.

Lawyers are seeking a test case which could lead to a flood of claims and damages totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds. Several servicewomen who had abortions rather than give up their careers are already attempting to gain compensation.

The move follows the Ministry of Defence admission that it had acted unlawfully in dismissing pregnant women between 1978 and 1990, following an appeal to the European Court. Since then, awards totalling pounds 20m have been made to about 2,400 women; a further 1,700 cases await decisions. Individuals have received payments of up to pounds 400,000 and average settlements are about pounds 7,000.

Solicitors acting for the claimants believe many childless servicewomen would have a strong case for awards to compensate for 'injury to feelings'. Successful applicants would probably be awarded several thousand pounds.

Norman Lamb, chairman of the Armed Forces Pregnancy Dismissal Group, set up to co-ordinate the servicewomen's action, said: 'Women have a right to feel aggrieved that they have lost the chance to have a family because of an unlawful government policy.'

Between 1978 and 1990 about 180,000 women served in the forces, most of whom could claim they gave up the opportunity to have a child. The biggest difficulty would be proving to an employment appeal tribunal that a woman wanted a child and suffered emotional damage.

Michael Rubenstein, a lawyer specialising in sex discrimination cases, argues in Equal Opportunities Review that those servicewoman who chose not to have a child were discriminated against in the same way as those who left. 'According to the Employment Appeal Tribunal the award for injury to feelings to a dismissed servicewoman should reflect 'her frustration, anger and bitterness at having her legitimate and honourable aspirations thwarted by the MoD's unlawful behaviour'. The same principle should apply to the women who stayed.'

Leading article, page 17