UK: Comments about man’s bald head ruled to be sexual harassment says employment tribunal

Irish Legal News and the UK press are having a fild day with this one

A man who was called a “bald c***” at work was the victim of sexual harassment, a British employment tribunal has ruled.

The case was brought an electrician who worked for a manufacturing company and was subjected to the comments as part of an argument with his supervisor. As well as complaints under the Equality Act 2010, he alleged that he was unfairly dismissed for making disclosures.

The three-judge tribunal was forced to consider the “difficult issue as to whether the expression ‘bald c***’ is harassment related to sex”.

Firstly, it noted that “industrial language was commonplace on this West Yorkshire factory floor”, but that there was “no evidence that the claimant complained about the use of industrial language towards him other than about the epithets ‘old’ and ‘bald’”.

The tribunal said it was “difficult to conclude other than that [the supervisor] uttered those words with the purpose of violating the claimant’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him”.

“That the claimant often expressed himself in Anglo-Saxon terms on the shopfloor matters not where the words used by [the supervisor] had the proscribed purpose,” it added.

The tribunal then went on to conclude that there “is a connection between the word ‘bald’ on the one hand and the protected characteristic of sex on the other”, because “as all three members of the Tribunal will vouchsafe, baldness is much more prevalent in men than women”.

Though counsel for the respondent submitted that women as well as men may be bald, the tribunal pointed out that a comment about women’s breasts – using the example of a case in which a manager said “hiya, big tits” to an employee – would be regarded as related to sex despite the fact some men suffer from gynaecomastia.

“[The supervisor] made the remark with a view to hurting the claimant by commenting on his appearance which is often found amongst men,” the tribunal said.

“The tribunal therefore determines that by referring to the claimant as a ‘bald c***’ on 24 July 2019, [the supervisor’s] conduct was unwanted, it was a violation of the claimant’s dignity, it created an intimidating etc environment for him, it was done for that purpose, and it related to the claimant’s sex.”

The panel concluded by upholding the claims of sexual harassment, unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal but dismissing a claim of age discrimination.