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Articles written by Stephen Pinder, Employment Law solicitor and Karen Ogden, paralegal and legal secretary.

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Man wins big in sex discrimination row - Tuesday, November 23, 2021

An Employment Tribunal has awarded £47000 to a former Tesco worker Toby King, who complained that he was the victim of sex discrimination. Mr King worked as a customer assistant in a store and became engaged in a row with his female manager about pre-Christmas flexibility to work additional hours. Mr King also had another job and was studying, and was unable to take on additional hours. Later, Mr King was in an office with his manager to discuss the hours issue and became anxious and wanted to leave the office. The manager refused to allow the door to open and amongst other things wedged her foot against the door. Mr King who suffers from PTSD managed to leave and complained about being subject to intimidation and falsely imprisoned.

Mr King suffered a relapse in his medical condition and was unable to work after Tesco management refused to treat his complaints seriously. He was told that he was a big man and that he should not have been intimidated by his manager, a 5 ft 4 pregnant woman, as he is 6ft tall. After having time off due to his medical condition he was dismissed for reasons of gross misconduct as he was said not to have kept in touch with the employer. The award of £47000 included about £31000 for injury to feelings which is into the higher band of possible awards.

The case was reported as a sex discrimination claim, involving the Tribunal concluding that the decisions in the case were influenced by the relative size of those involved. The employer failed to investigate the complaints or the allegations due to gender related bias, with the Judge stating that complaints of a similar kind made by a woman would not have been dealt with in the same way. I am slightly surprised that this was not also identified as a matter involving disability discrimination by reference to the PTSD.

The case raises some interesting points about treating employees in the same way, independent of any preconceived bias. Tesco management fell into error by assuming that a bigger man should be more robust in the face of unfair treatment, by ignoring the personal circumstances of the individual and the inevitable anxiety arising from being treated in this way by a manager. Employers should treat workers in the same way, and company policies should be applied for the benefit of all. In this case that did not happen and the Judge concluded further that a woman would not have been dismissed in the same situation.

My guess is that Mr King was unable to pursue an unfair dismissal case due to his length of service, and in this case, he could avail himself of the chance to pursue a Tribunal claim based upon allegations of discrimination. The case highlights the risk to an employer of discriminating such that a claim engages the right to claim compensation for injury to feelings and unlimited damages. The discriminating employer may not know everything about their employee, and the degree of upset and injury to feelings is about the individual worker who may already be vulnerable due to a medical condition about which the employer is unaware. I have another case involving a man being told to “man up” during a dispute by a female manager in front of a room full of women co-workers, and his case involves allegations of sex discrimination. The case just seems to have better prospects of success now.

 

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