Former fireman Andrew Bridge was awarded £45,000 in damages recently by Manchester Employment Tribunal after it upheld his claim of unfair dismissal from his job as crew manager at Fleetwood fire station in 2007.
Bridge and two colleagues were dismissed after they took part in the defacement of a female colleague’s name badge by adding a lewd comment. All were sacked but one was later reinstated.
The incident, involving fire station cook Jeanette McFall, took place shortly after Bridge was awarded a medal for good conduct.
The tribunal found that although Bridge was 60% to blame for his dismissal, his employer, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Services (LFRS), failed to take his 26-year unblemished work record into account, and did not consider lesser options such as demotion or a written warning.
It also heard that Bridge suggested the prank but did not carry it out, and that the fireman who did received a written warning, and is back at Fleetwood fire station.
Speaking to the Blackpool Gazette, Bridge said he believed he had lost £250,000 because of the impact on his pension. “The last two years have been hell for me and my family. I’m delighted to finally have a piece of paper that says I was unfairly dismissed – that means more than the payout.
“I know what I did was wrong but at the end of the day it was a 20-second error of judgement. There was a culture at Fleetwood with Miss McFall which has been described as ‘reciprocated banter’ – that was the spirit in which the prank was made.”
McFall told the same paper: “I think the unfair dismissal judgment ruling makes a mockery of the Fire Brigade, its code of conduct and everything it stands for. It sends out completely the wrong message about what’s acceptable and will impact on women considering a career in the fire service. I cried when I saw what was written on the badge. I’m glad it is finally over.”
Initially, LFRS said it would appeal the ruling, but a spokesman said it had now decided not to.
Its chief fire officer, Peter Holland, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the tribunal’s decision. “The judgment itself concludes that [Bridge’s] ‘conduct was highly culpable and highly blameworthy… by his puerile actions the claimant brought the situation on himself… The claimant suggested the wording on two occasions.
“This is neither the behaviour nor attitude we wish to have in a manager within our organisation. LFSR is an equal opportunities employer and takes seriously any form of discrimination or bullying. We look to our managers to actively promote this philosophy – not undermine it.”
He added: “Women are under-represented in the fire service… We are working extremely hard to address this by creating a working environment where people of all backgrounds are treated with dignity and respect so they can thrive and develop to their full potential.”
Since his dismissal, Bridge has set up a plumbing business.