Army faces childcare minefield as single mother who missed parade wins tribunal

THE British Army may have to consider soldiers' childcare arrangements before issuing orders after a single mother won a sex discrimination case against the Ministry of Defence.

Tilern DeBique, 28, said she was forced to leave the army after being told she was expected to be available for duty around the clock.

The corporal was disciplined after she failed to appear on parade because she was looking after her daughter. She had also previously missed a training exercise because of lack of childcare.

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Her commanding officer in the 10th Signal Regiment then told her that the army was a "war-fighting machine" and "unsuitable for a single mother who couldn't sort out her childcare arrangements".

Ms DeBique, from St Vincent in the Caribbean, said she was forced to leave her job as she was unable to organise childcare. She is now in line for damages estimated at 100,000 after winning a claim at the Central London Employment tribunal.

The hearing continued yesterday to decide the level of payout due to her for loss of earnings and damages.

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Ms DeBique, who was recruited in her homeland, was told she was expected to be available for duty at all times, the tribunal heard.

She was formally disciplined after failing to turn out on a parade in January 2007 because she needed to look after her daughter. A month earlier, she missed training after her daughter fell ill, it was reported.

After quitting the army in 2008, she launched employment tribunal proceedings and won her claim for sexual discrimination.

She also successfully argued that she was the victim of race discrimination after saying that immigration laws prevented her bringing a relative to the UK to help with childcare.

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Army chiefs told her that immigration rules meant the foreign relative could only enter the country as a visitor and could not stay for longer than six months.

In its judgment, the tribunal criticised the army for not making appropriate childcare arrangements for Ms DeBique – especially after its costly recruitment drive in the Caribbean.

It ruled the army had treated Ms DeBique less favourably than male soldiers and her non-Foreign and Commonwealth counterparts.

The tribunal concluded that the army could have liaised with the UK Border Agency to have the usual immigration rules relaxed.

It emerged yesterday that Ms DeBique, who joined 10 Signal Regiment in March 2001, had expressed interest in other military positions before leaving the army in 2008, including two in Afghanistan. However, she rejected a five-year posting to the Blandford Army Camp in Dorset.

Keith Morton, for the Ministry of Defence, suggested Ms DeBique was exploring other jobs which paid "considerably more money" months before she quit.

But Ms DeBique, who was accompanied by her daughter at yesterday's hearing, said she was not financially motivated in pursuing two administrative positions based in Afghanistan – these carried salaries of 35,000 and 48,000.

She said: "They did pay more than I earned in the army but it wasn't my primary consideration."

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A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "The Armed Forces aim to achieve a working environment free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination.

"Serving personnel who are parents are responsible for ensuring they have childcare arrangements in place so that they can fulfil all of their army duties.

"Commonwealth and RoI (Republic of Ireland] citizens have access to the same levels of army welfare support as their British counterparts."