Landmark case on homophobic words at work

A man has won £10,000 damages after his manager made a homophobic comment about him to a colleague.

Experts say the case is a landmark ruling that in effect prohibits the use of homophobic language in the workplace, and has important implications for all employers because the offending comment was not made directly to the victim.

Alan Whitehead, 52, resigned from his job at the Brighton Palace Pier after he found that he had been the subject of a homophobic remark. In his claim for unfair dismissal and harassment, Whitehead told an employment tribunal that his dignity had been violated after a colleague informed him that she had overheard the general manager call him a “f***ing chutney ferret”.

The tribunal held that such a term was “exceptionally offensive” to gay men and awarded the claimant nearly £10,000 in compensation.

Paul Lambdin, partner in the employment practice at law firm Stevens & Bolton, said: “The case is a wake-up call for employers. The law on harassment has changed and, as this case illustrates, a single comment about a worker may constitute a violation of the worker’s dignity, as well as a series of comments or actions constituting a degrading or humiliating environment.

“The fact that, as reported, this case did not involve comments being made directly to the worker is particularly noteworthy. If this approach is approved at appeal level it will apply to all strands of discrimination – sex, race, disability, religion and belief as well as sexual orientation,” he said.

“Employers will have to be doubly careful to ensure people in their organisation do not make any discriminatory remarks about workers.”

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