Leading Article: Childless husbands deserve their whack, too

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The Independent Online
MANY women may be wishing they had volunteered to join the armed services between August 1978 and August 1990. That is the period in which the Ministry of Defence operated a policy, subsequently deemed unlawful, of dismissing serving women who became pregnant. Some 2,000 of those who left to become mothers have so far been compensated. Payments have averaged around pounds 7,000, but in several cases have run to six figures, the highest being pounds 400,000. These were later described as 'manifestly excessive' by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

A lawyer specialising in equal opportunities law, Michael Rubenstein, is now suggesting that many of those women who put their careers before motherhood and stayed at their posts during the relevant time may also have a claim to compensation. First they suffered shock, anger and distress on learning that they had been unlawfully obliged to forgo motherhood if they wished to keep their jobs. This was then accentuated by the large awards given to women who had been dismissed.

If he proves right, a high proportion of service women of child- bearing age at the relevant time could be entitled to damages. Either they were unlawfully dismissed or they remained childless to avoid unlawful dismissal.

Mr Rubenstein's suggestion is not as far-fetched as it may seem. True, the awards to those dismissed on grounds of pregnancy look over-generous, especially when compared with those for serious physical injuries suffered on duty or at work. But it is no small matter to have been wrongfully coerced into childlessness.

Should the payments stop there? What of all those loyal husbands who were consequently denied the joys of paternity? The Ministry of Defence continues to provide a cautionary model of how not to manage these sensitive questions.