Employment Tribunal upholds sexual harassment claim after “poor taste humour” joke (Prewett v Green King Services Limited – ET/1800566/2019)

In Prewett v Green King Services Limited (ET/1800566/2019) the Employment Tribunal held that an Employee’s constructive unfair dismissal claim failed when, although she had been sexually harassed, she had not resigned in response to the harassment.

 The factual background in Prewett v Green King Services Limited

Ms Prewett (the ‘Claimant’) was employed by Green King Services Limited (the ‘Respondent’) from 1995 as a pub manager.  On 20 July 2018 the Claimant’s pub failed an audit and she was put on a final written warning.  Mr Bentley was the Respondent’s risk manager and on 1 August 2018 he attended the Claimant’s pub along with the regional business development manager for a meeting with the Claimant.

Mr Gaunt and Mr Bentley were sat at a table and the Claimant went over to join them.  As she did Mr Bentley was saying to Mr Gaunt ‘Do you know what a growler is?’.  Mr Gaunt replied ‘No’ and Mr Bentley then said to the Claimant ‘If you know don’t tell him’.  He then told a joke about ‘a bloke saying when I ask for a growler I don’t want a pork pie’.

The Claimant did not know what a growler was initially but after some research she discovered that it was a term in Yorkshire for a pork pie, but also a slang term for a vagina.  She fully understood the joke and she felt unhappy about it.

Mr Bentley visited the pub again on 13 August and on this occasion when asked by the Claimant ‘what do you want to see first?’ he replied, ‘depends what’s on offer’.  The Claimant was irritated by the innuendo.

On 11 September another colleague came to visit the pub to see how it was all going.  He saw some cartons and other items on a work service and commented that Mr Bentley would be unhappy if he saw the same.  The Claimant became upset and asked the colleague to leave and the same day she called Mr Guant and told him she was resigning because of the harassment by Mr Bentley. 

The Claimant went on to make a formal complaint about Mr Bentley and an investigation into her grievance took place.  During that process Mr Bentley completely denied the allegations and gave evidence that when talking about growlers with the Claimant on 1 August 2018 the term ‘growler’ was used as the name of a vessel in which to sell real ale.

The Respondent rejected the Claimant’s grievance and appeal.

The Claimant went on the make a claim for sexual harassment and constructive unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal (the ‘ET’).

The decision of the Employment Tribunal (ET)

The Claimant’s sexual harassment claim was brought out of time.  However, the ET exercised their discretion to extend the time limit to the date when it was actually presented because it was intrinsic to her constructive unfair dismissal claim and consequently the allegations had to be determined as facts in that case in any event.

The ET preferred the evidence of the Claimant with regards to the incident on the 1 August 2018 and upheld her claim for sexual harassment.

Her claim for constructive unfair dismissal failed.  The ET held that the Claimant had resigned in response to the comment made by Mr Bentley’s colleague about the work surfaces as well as the overarching circumstances of being on a final written warning and having a chef who was struggling to meet the standards required along with her own personal circumstances.  When reaching this decision, the ET took into account the fact that the Claimant had resigned over a month after the first incident of harassment.

Our solicitors’ views on the case of Ms Prewett v Green King Services Limited

Sacha Barrett, a Senior Associate in the employment department at Redmans, made the following comment on the case ‘This case demonstrates that inappropriate comments, even where there is no intention to offend, can still amount to sexual harassment.  Employers should have robust policies in place as well as provide appropriate training if they want to ensure they do not find themselves liable for the actions of employees.’

The decision of the Employment Tribunal in Ms Prewett v Green King Services Limited (1800566/2019) can be found here.