Ferguson v Concierge Practitioners NI Limited & anor – daily homophobic harassment was unlawful

In the case of Ferguson v Concierge Practitioners NI Limited & anor (2238/15) the Industrial Tribunal held that the Claimant, Mr Ferguson, had been subjected to regular homophobic bullying and harassment, and awarded him £16,600 in compensation.

Mr Ferguson was a director of and shareholder in both Concierge Practitioners NI Limited and CPNI Ambulance Services Limited, holding a shareholding of 15% in each company. He was employed from 2012 until September 2015, whereupon he left both companies. Mr Stuewe was the majority shareholder in both companies, and was effectively in control of them.

During the course of his employment with both companies Mr Ferguson was subjected to regular homophobic comments and actions from Mr Stuewe, including (among others):

  • Mr Stuewe making unnecessary reference directed at Mr Ferguson to the risk of contracting HIV from the use of needles by gay staff
  • That Mr Stuewe made, on a number of occasions, intrusive enquiries as to Mr Ferguson’s personal relationships and, in particular, whether he was in a relationship with another man
  • That Mr Stuewe mocked Mr Ferguson for the fact that his male former partner was now in a relationship with a woman, claiming that Mr Ferguson had “turned” him from a gay man into a heterosexual man
  • That Mr Stuewe described homosexual sexual acts in an adverse way
  • That Mr Stuewe made offensive and personal comments regarding Mr Ferguson’s personal appearance
  • That Mr Stuewe made an offensive comment about “bum fun”

Mr Ferguson left his employment on [DATE] and made a claim in the Industrial Tribunal, with this claim being narrowed to a claim for harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation by the time that the case came to the Industrial Tribunal hearing.

The Industrial Tribunal found that Mr Stuewe had made offensive comments about Mr Ferguson for a lengthy period of time, and that these comments were related to Mr Ferguson’s sexual orientation. The Tribunal found that the comments were a continuing act by Mr Stuewe and found in Mr Ferguson’s favour in his claim for harassment.

The Industrial Tribunal awarded Mr Ferguson £15,000 as compensation for the injury to Mr Ferguson’s feelings, finding that it fell within the ‘serious’ bracket of the Vento scale of awards. In making this level of award the Employment Judge stated that factors relevant to his decision included that the comments had been grossly offensive, were on a daily basis over a three-year period, were made in front of colleagues, and that the behaviour had affected Mr Ferguson’s self-esteem.

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “This case is a particularly egregious example of harassment in the workplace – what makes it worse is the fact that Mr Ferguson complained about his treatment from Mr Stuewe to fellow directors but that no action was taken by his employer to halt Mr Stuewe’s conduct or take any action against Mr Stuewe.”