What is sex discrimination?

sex discrimination

Sex discrimination refers to being treated unfairly because you’re a man, or a woman.

You may be able take legal action if you see sex discrimination in the following situations:

  • Training and employment
  • Education

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When providing goods or services such as entertainment, banking, and transport?


Any of the activities performed by public authorities such as the NHS or government departments, police, and prisons

Direct or indirect, sex discrimination can occur. It may also be in the form of harassment or victimization.

It does not have to be intentional. Even though someone may not be aware of it or intend to discriminate against you, this could still count as discrimination.

Positive discrimination against one sex is not allowed by the law against sex-discrimination. An employer cannot insist that women be recruited or promoted to a job only if they have been previously discriminated against in applying for the role.

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  • Positive discrimination does not mean positive action.
  • The law protects you against sex discrimination between men and women.
  • Discrimination in pregnancy and maternity leave
  • Discrimination when you change genders (gender reassignment).
  • Discrimination because you’re married or in a civil partnership
  • Discrimination based on sexual orientation
  • Also see Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination.
  • See Sexual orientation discrimination for more information.

Direct sex discrimination

Direct sex discrimination is when someone is treated less favorably due to their sex than someone who would be treated in similar circumstances.

It will help to show direct sex discrimination if you can provide an example of someone else of a different sexuality who was, or would be, treated better than you in similar circumstances.

Direct discrimination includes harassment and sexist abuse

Direct sex discrimination can be illustrated by:

  • A married woman cannot refuse credit to her husband without his signature. However, a married man can sign the contract with his wife.
  • Refusing to accept a woman’s salary as a basis for a mortgage loan because of her sex
  • A nightclub that charges a higher entry fee for a man due to his sex will charge a higher entrance fee
  • Advertisement for a job as a “waiter”. This creates the impression that only men are eligible for the job.
  • See Direct discrimination for more information.

Direct sex discrimination

Indirect sex discrimination is when a rule, policy, or practice is made that someone of a particular sexuality is less likely than others to be able meet. This places them at an advantage over the person of the opposite sex.

Some examples of indirect sex discrimination include:

  • An employer that requires all employees to work full time. Women have more responsibility for caring for children and adults with disabilities than men, so it would be more difficult to work full time.
  • A mortgage provider that only offers mortgages to full-time workers. As more women work part-time, this will likely mean that fewer women will be granted a mortgage than men.
  • You may be able make a complaint if you believe that there was indirect sex discrimination. If the complainant can prove that the rule, practice, or policy is legitimate and has nothing to do sex, it will not be considered discrimination.

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See Indirect discrimination for more information.


You shouldn’t be treated unfairly if you make a complaint about sex discrimination. You shouldn’t be treated unfairly because you have filed a complaint.

You can file a complaint by going to court, to an employment tribunal, or simply standing up for your rights.

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If you have filed a complaint regarding sex discrimination, you can receive protection. If you help someone else file a complaint about sexual discrimination, such as by being a witness at court, you can also receive protection.