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April 16, 2010
Vincy woman makes £1 million claim against British Army

A Vincentian woman has found herself at the centre of controversy in the United Kingdom, since the ruling of an employment tribunal that she suffered indirect sexual and racial discrimination because of the combined effect of military and immigration rules.{{more}}

Tilern DeBique, who joined the British Army in March 2001, when she was 19 years old, was a systems engineering technician with the 10th Signal Regiment.

Originally from Spring Village, DeBique is a former student of the Girls’ High School, from which she graduated in 1998.

The young woman found herself being disciplined by the Army when she failed to turn out on patrol on one occasion when her daughter Thalia was sick in 2007, the Telegraph reports.

She finally left the Army in 2008 because the demands of childcare for her young daughter interfered with her availability for duty.

She then launched employment tribunal proceedings, which she won earlier this week. She is claiming for 15 years of lost earnings, pension contributions and other benefits amounting to more than £1,142,000 plus interest.

The panel was told that DeBique had calculated that she should receive £473,535 in lost earnings, £325,160 in lost benefits such as Army housing and £315,562 for her pension. She is also claiming compensation of £18,000 for hurt feelings and an additional £10,000 aggravated damages.

Now, questions are being asked about how this ruling will affect the recruitment of women as well as persons from the Commonwealth into the British Army.

Judith Webb, a former member of the Signals Regiment in an article in the Mail Online said on Wednesday “the tribunal decision has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with special treatment.

“It implies the Army should accommodate every mother, no matter how expensive or unreasonable the demands.”

Besides the claim of sexual discrimination, DeBique also won a claim of race discrimination because Army chiefs did not let her bring her half-sister from St. Vincent to look after the child.

The former corporal, whose daughter is now four, told the Central London Employment Tribunal that British soldiers could rely on their families for childcare, but her relatives were all in St Vincent, where she was recruited.

This second victory raises serious questions about the Army’s willingness to recruit from Commonwealth countries in the future, if it will be held responsible for soldiers’ childcare arrangements.

DeBique became pregnant in 2004 and gave birth to her daughter Thalia in August 2005.

At first she brought the baby back to her family in St Vincent, but then took her back to the UK in September 2006.

It was initially arranged that she would work from 8.30am to 4.30pm and only on weekdays, so she could arrange childcare, the Mail Online said.

As a signals technician, DeBique was responsible for fixing faulty cables and communications equipment but she was also required to have the skills to serve on the front line if required.

In December 2006 she missed training after her daughter fell ill, and in January 2007 she failed to appear on parade because of childcare difficulties.

It was then she was told that she was required to be available at all times and that she was working for a ‘war fighting machine’.

She feared she was ‘on the path to dismissal’ and quit the Army in 2008, after seven years.

The Defence Ministry says she could have accepted an alternative posting.

DeBique told the tribunal it had been her ‘dream’ to join the Army and she had wanted to give her daughter a better life than she had.

She said she would have seen out her full 22-year period of service if she had not suffered discrimination, but was now struggling financially because she could not find another job.

The tribunal criticised the Army for not making childcare arrangements for her – especially after its costly recruitment drive in the Caribbean.

It found that the Ministry of Defence could have liaised with the UK Border Agency to relax immigration rules.

The Ministry appealed against the rulings but lost.

Its lawyers say any payout for loss of earnings should be reduced because only six per cent of female soldiers serve their full 22 years.

A ruling in the compensation hearing is expected today.