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Ms C v Thistle Communications Ltd (in liquidation) – Woman asked by boss ‘how do lesbians have sex’ wins ET award of £30,000

Ms C v Thistle Communications Ltd (in liquidation) – Woman asked by boss ‘how do lesbians have sex’ wins ET award of £30,000

Facts

In this case, the Employment Tribunal considered whether an LGBT employee was subject to discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her sex and sexual orientation following being subject to sexually explicit questions.

Ms C, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was employed as a Sales Assistant at a store for a Vodaphone franchise called Thistle Communications Ltd. Between 4 October 2021 until her resignation on 17t January 2022, Ms C reported several occasions whereby she was subject to comments that made her feel uncomfortable. She was asked by one manager to describe personal details about her sex life as they were “curious about how lesbians have sex”. In a journal entry to her Universal Credit coach, she expressed that she was “beside herself with frustration and she was upset” and that “she doesn’t know how she could continue to work in a place where people find it acceptable to ask such questions”. She was also exposed to the comment “I mean I think it’s great, you’re a lesbian but I can’t imagine having this conversation with a gay guy”. A different manager said that she looked like a “normal lassie” when referring to her sexuality, which she said she interpreted to mean that being gay was unusual.

In addition to this, another manager told Ms C that she was not “financially driven” because she did not have children. He also asked her, “what’s a fag hag?” He was also reported to have said to Ms C “love who you want to love but when it comes to affecting my child, I don’t think LGBT should be taught in schools.”

Following raising her concerns about the comments made, Ms C went on a period of off sick leave, citing stress caused by her job, and later resigned. She pursued claims for sex and sexual orientation discrimination and harassment in the employment tribunal.

Tribunal Decision

The employment tribunal ruled that being asked about her sex life was discrimination and that she had been a victim of harassment on the basis of her gender and sexual orientation.

Her employer was ordered to pay a total of £30,000 in compensation to Ms C. The award included £25,000 for injury to feelings, £1,100 for financial loss and £2,600 for her employer’s failure to follow approved workplace procedures.

What should businesses consider?

The law around discrimination and harassment is complex. Successful discrimination claims can be expensive as the compensation awarded is uncapped and an employer may be liable if it fails to protect its employees and other workers from harassment in the course of their employment.  Understanding the law and ensuring that appropriate policies and training are in place is crucial. Staff should be aware of what behaviour is acceptable and where they can go for support if they find themselves subject to such behaviour. Employers should consider the following actions:

  • Ensure existing policies and procedures are reviewed and updated regularly, particularly the grievance and equality and diversity policies.
  • Make policies and procedures accessible to the workforce and put them into practice.
  • Provide regular and mandatory anti-discrimination training.
  • Carry out equality monitoring and risk assessments to identify risk factors for discrimination throughout the business i.e.: Lack of diversity in the workforce or at certain levels of seniority in the workforce and/or power imbalances.
  • Review business culture and ensure staff are provided with a point of contact so that they can ask any questions about company policies and their application.

Please contact one of our Employment law experts on 0161 832 3434 if you have any questions regarding the above, or if you required advice on training and the implementation of appropriate policies.