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UK tribunal holds calling a man bald is sex harassment

The facts

Tony Finn was employed by beer barrel stopper maker British Bung Company as an electrician between 22 September 1997 and 25 May 2021.

In late July 2019 an altercation between Finn and Jamie King occurred. Finn alleged of that incident that:


“I was working on a machine that I had to cover awaiting specialist repair. The covers were taken off, and it was apparent that Jamie King had done this. When I spoke to him about it, he began to call me a stupid old bald cunt and threatened to ‘deck me.’ Fearful for my personal safety I retreated to the nearby office of Ady Hudson, supervisor. Jamie continued his tirade of threats and abuse at the office door.”

Later, Finn claimed he had been called a “fat bald old cunt” by King in that incident.

A further incident on 25 March 2021 occurred in which King again threatened Finn.

Because a subsequent statement by Finn was prepared on West Yorkshire Police letterhead paper, Finn was dismissed on the grounds that he had “deliberately provided a witness statement which falsely suggested on its face and by its content, that it had been made to, and taken by, West Yorkshire Police in connection with the investigation of an alleged crime”.

In dismissing Finn with immediate effect, British Bung Company wrote to him that:

“We do not accept your explanation, or that you acted in good faith, or that there was merely an oversight. You did not apologise. On the contrary, you said that you did not think that you had done anything wrong… We are satisfied that your actions amount to gross misconduct justifying your immediate dismissal. In light of your failure to apologise, and insistence that you have done nothing wrong, we are satisfied that it would be impossible to have trust and confidence in you as our employee.”

British Bung Company letter to Finn

Finn was dismissed from his employment without notice despite until March 2021 having an unblemished disciplinary record over nearly 24 years of service.

Tribunal’s decision

The Tribunal panel, headed by Employment Judge Brain, found that Mr King did call Finn a “bald cunt” and that the word “old” did not feature. The Tribunal also found that King did threaten Finn with physical violence, rejecting King’s denials:

“We can attach no significant weight to Mr King’s version of events. Having received a warning from the respondent about the July 2019 incident it is unsurprising that he gives an account in which effectively he denies the use of threatening words or behaviour towards the claimant.”

Employment Judge Brain

The Tribunal found that the reason for the dismissal was the Finn’s conduct in presenting British Bung Co with a witness statement on West Yorkshire Police headed notepaper and which gave the appearance of matters having become a police matter. The Tribunal was satisfied that the health and safety reason and the protected disclosures were not the reasons for the dismissal.

Because Finn was led to believe that no decision would be made by British Bung Co pending hearing from the West Yorkshire Police with the outcome of their enquiries, only for his employer British Bung to dismiss him only two working days later, it was held good faith was lacking in British Bung’s disciplinary hearing which was not cured on its internal appeal.

The reason why this decision made headlines was due to the Tribunal’s finding that Mr King‘s comment amounted to harassment under the Equality Act 2010 because it targeted a protected characteristic, namely his sex:

“Plainly, some words or phrases would clearly be related to a protected characteristic. Where the link is less obvious then Tribunals may need to analyse the precise words used, together with the context, in order to establish whether there is any negative association between the two.

In our judgment, there is a connection between the word “bald” on the one hand and the protected characteristic of sex on the other. Miss Churchhouse was right to submit that women as well as men may be bald. However, as all three members of the Tribunal will vouchsafe, baldness is much more prevalent in men than women. We find it to be inherently related to sex. (In contrast, we accept that baldness affects (predominantly) adult males of all ages so is inherently not a characteristic of age)…

it is much more likely that a person on the receiving end of a remark such as that made by Mr King would be male. Mr King made the remark with a view to hurting the claimant by commenting on his appearance which is often found amongst men. The Tribunal therefore determines that by referring to the claimant as a “bald cunt” on 24 July 2019 Mr King’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 complaint of harassment relating to sex arising out of the incident of 24 July 2019 therefore succeeded.

The claims that Finn was unfairly dismissed upon the grounds that he made the disclosures of the incidents of July 2019 or 25 March 2021, or for the health and safety reason, failed. However, the claim that Finn was unfairly dismissed pursuant to sections 94 to 98 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 succeeded because of the lack of good faith by British Bung Co in respect of the manner in which Finn was dismissed.

Full story: https://sterlinglawqld.com/uk-tribunal-holds-calling-a-man-bald-is-sex-harassment

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