Male dominated business unwittingly discriminated

An employee has been successful in an employment tribunal having argued that she was forced out of the “male-dominated” business, which produces props and special effects for films and TV shows. She claimed that it was the perception of the Company’s chairman that the industry is male-dominated, and this affected the way he treated her and valued her contributions to the business.

It was claimed that the Chairman called another female employee an “old nag”. And the employee told the tribunal that this sort of language about female employees was quite common. She raised a grievance about the old nag comment, among other things but the manager investigating her grievance did not speak to the Chairman or the colleague on the receiving end of the comment. The investigating manager found the grievance to be “unsubstantiated”, despite the fact that the Chairman actually admitted to making the comment at the tribunal hearing. A tribunal witness recalled the Chairman saying that he wanted a “pretty young lady” working on reception.

Sometime after the grievance hearing the employee’s performance was brought into question and she was told that her working relationship was not effective, and that her attitude and communication had to improve.  Following this, the employee resigned, alleging that she had been “bullied and belittled”.

The tribunal found that whilst the meeting was not deliberately calculated to destroy the relationship of confidence and trust between employer and employee, it was likely to have had that effect and therefore amounted to a breach of contract. As the employee she was given no advance warning of the meeting or any indication that it would discuss concerns about her performance, the tribunal found that this was constructive dismissal and that it was unfair.

The tribunal panel also found that the company could not prove that the comments that led to her dismissal had not been motivated by sex and therefore amounted to direct sex discrimination.

The judgement was explained as follows: the burden of proof shifts for sex discrimination because the workforce was more than 80% male. The Chairman had had this drawn to his attention and said he would consider it but he failed to take any action. This shows that his actions potentially could be motivated by the sex of the person he was talking to, or talking about and from which the tribunal could conclude that his words and actions towards this employee were, at least partially, and at least unconsciously, influenced by the claimant’s sex. 

As well as constructive dismissal, the tribunal found that the employee was also entitled to compensation for breach of contract, as the employer did not give a notice period or pay in lieu of notice. A hearing to decide compensation will be scheduled for a later date.

Should you have any concerns about your staff unwittingly discriminating due to a particularly strong male or female workforce, please contact us at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk and we can discuss diversity training!

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