It has always been possible for people who are not gay to bring sexual orientation discrimination claims. For instance, where a heterosexual is discriminated against because they have gay friends.
The law can also cover instructions to discriminate against customers. For instance, an instruction not to lend cars to Asian customers has been held to amount to discrimination against a white employee.
The discrimination against employees in this case (brought by Mr Lisboa against Realpubs Ltd.) was more subtle, however. Realpubs had tried to attract a more heterosexual clientele by discouraging its gay clientele. Measures included employing more women as bar staff and asking them to place obviously heterosexual staff near the pub’s windows. Management also wished to make it clear that the pub was no longer gay, and used disparaging language about gay customers staff (although it is not clear whether this actually impacted on customers). The Appeal Tribunal held that trying to attract a broader clientele was legitimate, but the methods used were not. They amounted to discrimination against the employee.
The case will sound a warning bell to businesses hoping to attract a client base with a certain profile, for instance of a certain age, and chimes with the recent BBC Countryfile decision, where an Employment Tribunal held the BBC’s wish to attract a younger audience was seen as a legitimate aim, but using younger presenters to achieve this was not.