Failure to take a complaint seriously was discrimination

A supermarket assistant who was ignored by managers when he complained that his boss falsely imprisoned him was discriminated against, a tribunal has ruled. 

The employment tribunal found that Mr King, who worked as a customer assistant at Tesco, suffered discrimination after managers failed to comprehend that he, as a 6ft tall man, could be intimidated by his manager, a 5ft 4in pregnant woman.

Tesco bosses had also failed to take into account the fact that had experienced a relapse in his pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The court found that managers were swayed by stereotypical “instinct” that a big man would not be concerned by a small woman and ruled they would “not have made that presumption if the claimant had been a woman”.

Because of the nature of his contract, the claimant was expected to work additional hours agreed by his manager, and the terms and conditions of his employment required him to maintain the flexibility specified. He also had another part time job alongside studying to be an electrician.

The tribunal heard that the employee’s line manager had “berated” him for being inflexible about offering additional hours in the run-up to Christmas. He told the tribunal that this accusation was a “smack in the face” because he felt he had been as flexible as he could be.

The tribunal found that while the manager was “within her rights” to ask for additional hours as a flexible worker, she was “not listening” to him when he explained about his other commitments. After the initial exchange, the manager invited the claimant to the staff search room to discuss his attitude to working additional shifts.

King had previously made his managers at Tesco aware of his PTSD, which was triggered by an incident at his former job with the Prison Service where he was held hostage. He told the tribunal that during the discussion, he told the manager that he felt uncomfortable staying in the room with her and that he was leaving. But as he opened the door to leave, she put her shoulder, hands and a foot against the door to prevent him from doing so. 

The tribunal reviewed the CCTV images and said the way King “squeezed” out of the door was consistent with him having become “increasingly anxious and borderline desperate to get out of the room”. 

Following the incident, the claimant complained of false imprisonment. He also linked the manager’s actions to being held hostage at his previous job.

The managers ignored this and did not view the CCTV, with one telling the tribunal that he “could not see a smaller person who is heavily pregnant making robust contact with King or acting aggressively or in an intimidating manner”, adding that he believed she would have avoided such contact “at all costs” to protect her baby. 

The claimant was signed off work because of a relapse in his PTSD and the tribunal found that the employer (and in particular the line manager) was largely “unsympathetic” towards his condition and inability to attend work.. 

The tribunal said that the manager’s actions were discriminatory because she did not think King would be intimidated by her or take her actions in the room seriously because he was a 6ft man and she was a 5ft 4in woman. It said the manager dismissed the possibility that the claimant was “vulnerable”.

This reminds employers of the need to take complaints seriously. A hearing will decide later, on the financial costs to be awarded. 

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