Lesbian couple win compensation after estate agent outing

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A lesbian couple who were publicly ‘outed’ by staff at an estate agency have won damages of £5,000.

After an assessment visit in February from the Bury St Edwards branch of estate agency Jackson Stops & Staff, Suzanne Richards and Sarah Dobinson decided to check property websites used by the agents.

They discovered that the reference used for their property on www.rightmove.co.uk was the word ‘lesbians.’

The couple were distraught by this breach of privacy and felt terrified that the estate agent’s actions could make them targets to homophobic members of the public.

“We were both shaking with disbelief and in tears when we read the property reference on the rightmove website,” they said.

“We had entrusted these people, welcomed them into the most intimate parts of our home and this was how they treated us.

“The repercussions of such actions could have been catastrophic – publicly linking our home address with our sexuality could have ruined our lives.”

The couple sent a letter of complaint to the estate agency but were shocked to receive the response, “We fail to see how we have discriminated against you.”

They decided to pursue a discrimination claim against the estate agency.

Earlier this month Jackson Stops & Staff accepted liability and will pay £5,000 compensation to Ms Richards and Ms Dobinson for injury to their feelings.

The estate agency has also agreed to provide discrimination and diversity training for their staff.

The couple’s solicitor, Eleanor Jennings, from law firm Russell Jones & Walker said:

“It is very clear from this case that the message does not seem to be getting through that businesses also owe a duty not to discriminate against individuals when providing goods and services.

“Too often, individuals take this type of discrimination on the chin and the treatment goes unchallenged.

“I hope very much that this case will provide impetus for more individuals to follow the example of Ms Richards and Ms Dobinson and take action to enforce their rights when treated in this offensive way.”

“We feel so strongly that nobody else should ever be treated like this again,” the couple said.

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall, said:

“The treatment of Ms Dobinson and Ms Richards was wholly unacceptable and I am pleased that both women have been compensated for what must have been a very distressing experience.

“It is a reminder to companies that discrimination on the grounds of sexuality will not be tolerated by the gay community and it is encouraging that Jackson Stops & Staff has taken positive steps to ensure this type of incident is not repeated.”