In a landmark legal victory, former Avon Fire and Rescue Service employee Sasha Acheson has won her sex discrimination case against the organisation.
Acheson, a female firefighter, accused her former employer of sex discrimination, harassment, and unfair dismissal.
The tribunal, held in Bristol, highlighted alleged systemic failings to protect women in employment within the organisation.
At the heart of Acheson’s claims was a pervasive culture of discrimination and harassment, which she likened to “death by a thousand cuts.”
Avon Fire and Rescue Service acknowledged the “deeply regrettable” nature of the inappropriate behaviour experienced by Acheson during her tenure.
“Felt completely insane”
During the proceedings, Acheson shared the emotional toll of the discrimination, stating, “By the end of it, I was broken and felt completely insane. It was like death by a thousand cuts, I was chipped away at.” She emphasised the need for systemic change, particularly noting the stark gender imbalance within the organisation, where only 46 out of 600 operational workforce members are women.
The former firefighter, who left a successful rugby career to pursue her passion for firefighting, expressed relief that the truth had come to light. “I’ve lost my career as a firefighter, but if this gives somebody the courage to say, ‘this isn’t how I should be treated,’ then that means it wasn’t for nothing,” Acheson remarked.
The employment tribunal upheld Acheson’s claims of direct sex discrimination, constructive dismissal, and harassment based on both sex and sexual orientation. Testimonies from up to 10 witnesses, including current and former Avon Fire and Rescue Service employees, supported Acheson’s case.
A broader issue of a lack of safety for women
Witnesses revealed concerns about the mismanagement of complaints related to discriminatory conduct by male firefighters, underscoring a broader issue of a lack of safety for women within the organisation. Avon Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer Simon Shilton expressed regret at the mistreatment experienced by Acheson and reassured the community of the organisation’s commitment to addressing such behaviour.
Shilton stated, “We have a zero-tolerance approach to poor behaviour, underpinned by a dignity and respect policy. While we cannot fix the past, we are focused on improving current staff experiences and ensuring a supportive and inclusive organisation where our staff can thrive.”
He further confirmed that the individual in question, Sasha Acheson, no longer worked for the service. The case has shed light on the need for continued efforts to foster a workplace culture that prioritises dignity, respect, and equality within the Avon Fire and Rescue Service and beyond.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.