LGBTQ+ Employee Asked ‘How Do Lesbians Have Sex?’; ET Awards £30,000

An LGBTQ+ employee was subjected to very sexually explicit questions about the LGBTQ+ community by her store manager. She was successful in her discrimination claim and awarded over £30,000 in compensation.

The Facts in Ms C v Thistle Communications Ltd

Ms C (the “Claimant”) commenced employment with Thistle Communications Ltd on 4 October 2021, as a Retail Advisor.  The franchise owner was Mr McDade. The Claimant reported directly to Matthew Graham, the store manager.  There was also a part-time store manager, Bilal Shahid. The Claimant argued that during the course of her employment she was subjected to direct discrimination as well as harassment. These were both on the grounds of her asserted protected characteristics of sex and sexual orientation.

On 18 November 2021, an incident took place between the Claimant and two other employees, Bilal (Billy) Shahid a senior manager and Matthew Graham, the store manager.  The Claimant was asked by Bilal Shahid “How do lesbians have sex then? I’m intrigued“.  Mr Graham joining the conversation asked, “what’s a fag hag?”. He then added, “Love who you want to love but when it comes to affecting my child, I don’t think LGBT should be taught in schools”. Matthew Graham also referred to the Claimant as looking like a ‘normal lassie’. He then made the comment, “that’s a waste” when referring to another gay woman.

Ms C told the tribunal that Mr Shahid said to her: ‘I mean I think it’s great, you’re a lesbian but I can’t imagine having this conversation with a gay guy.’

On 24th November 2021, the Claimant sent Michael McDade an email headed ‘Complaint’ following a discussion with the Respondent’s Michael McDade where the Claimant raised a number of concerns about comments made during her employment, in particular the incident on 18 November 2021.  This was later set out in writing in the form of a formal grievance for him to investigate properly. Furthermore, on 6 December 2021, several witnesses were interviewed as part of the grievance investigation process.

The Claimant was then emailed, on 13 December 2021, the outcome of the grievance. It was partially upheld, agreeing there had been inappropriate comments made as well as inappropriate discussions involving employees (including the Claimant). The grievance officer recommended LGBTQ+ training and moving the Claimant away from those employees.

On 15 December 2021, the Claimant appealed against the grievance decision, arguing amongst other things she had not clearly been acknowledged as the main victim but shared some of the blame. The Claimant received the outcome of her appeal, on 30 December 2021, which was not upheld.

Subsequently, on 10 January 2022, the Claimant resigned. She commenced proceedings at the employment tribunal on 19 January 2022, alleging unfair dismissal, unlawful discrimination against her on the grounds of sexual orientation and sex, as well as sexual harassment.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal awarded the Claimant £25,000 for injury to feelings, £1,100 for financial loss and £2,600 for failure to follow ACAS procedures, plus interest.

The tribunal held that questioning the Claimant about her sex life and LGBTQ+ members amounted to direct discrimination. They found that Mr Shahid would not have asked such questions to a male colleague or a straight female colleague. She was made to feel uncomfortable because she is a gay woman.

The tribunal also found that all of the instances of unwanted contact amounted to harassment, and were because of her protected characteristics.  This conduct was not welcome by the Claimant. It violated her dignity and created an intimidating, hostile and offensive environment within the workplace. This made her feel marginalised in her place of work. Plus, the Respondent had not taken reasonable steps to prevent the harassment.

The tribunal also found that the Respondent had failed to carry out a full investigation of the Claimant’s complaint. Her claim for unfair dismissal was rejected as she had insufficient employment service.

Our Lawyer’s Comment on This Case

Steve Norton, a lawyer at Redmans, comments- This case is interesting in being another example of male employees feeling they can make unwanted intrusive and personal comments about a lesbian female employee’s sexuality and sexual orientation. This would be unlikely to have been directed towards a male colleague, or even a straight female colleague.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal can be found here