A plumbing and heating engineer who colleagues called ‘Half-dead Dave’ has been awarded almost £25,000 in compensation for age-related discrimination and unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.
Mr D Robson was made redundant from his role at Clarke’s Mechanical, based in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, in 2020. He was aged 69 at the time and was the oldest skilled worker in the business.
The company had experienced a downturn in business and had been told that a major contact it held would not be renewed. Robson was one of the staff working on a job that was coming to an end.
At a meeting on 24 January 2020, Robson was told he was to be made redundant with eight weeks’ notice. He had been given no warning before this meeting that he was at risk of redundancy, and there had been no consultation with him. The meeting lasted only 13 minutes and he was not given any information about the redundancy or appeals procedure.
Other staff were later invited to apply for voluntary redundancy.
He appealed against the decision, and asked whether his age had been a factor. Robson was a highly-qualified, Gas Safe registered plumber and gas fitter who had worked in the field since 1965.
Shortly after he was told about his redundancy, the Clarke’s Mechanical website showed an advertisement for a qualified plumber/pipefitter on the Isle of Wight, offering short-term employment contract and sub-contract positions for immediate start. Robson was qualified for this role, yet it had not been offered to him at the redundancy meeting.
On 17 February, company director Mr Clarke sent Robson the scoring criteria said to have been applied in selecting him for redundancy. Robson claimed the scores were not explained in any way and he believed they had been fabricated as in previous meetings the employer had made no mention of a scoring exercise having been carried out.
Robson’s score for performance was the lowest, save for that of a junior trainee, and his score for domestic experience equated to trainee plumbers, which Robson disputed at the tribunal.
The tribunal found that the scoring process had been discriminatory and based on Robson’s age.
“There is no other reason for his selection: he was skilled and versatile, with no history of performance or conduct issues. The scoring used was fictitious. In the absence of evidence to justify the dismissal, the context points to his selection being because of his age: he was the oldest,” its judgment says.
The employer denied that age had been taken into consideration, but the tribunal noted that most employers “would be alive to the age profile of their staff”.
“There might be concerns about an inconveniently short future career, about future performance concerns or health. It is unlikely that the employer gave Mr Robson’s age no thought,” the judgment adds.
On 27 February 2020 Robson received a letter confirming that he would be paid for the remaining three weeks of his notice period but was not required to work. His last day at the company was 28 February 2020.
Robson also claimed that colleagues had called him “Half-dead Dave” or “Half-dead”, including his supervisor Mr Pitman.
On one occasion, Pitman allegedly told a trainee, Mr Fox, to hand something to “Half-dead Dave”. When Fox said he did not know who that was, Pitman said he thought that that was the nickname colleagues gave Robson on site.
[Robson] told us he saw it as reflecting his age and he felt vulnerable because of his age. He felt that his job was at risk if he made a fuss” – Employment judge Street
Fox handed Robson the fittings saying “Here you are, Half-dead”. Robson asked who had called him that. Fox apologised and later told the tribunal he felt uncomfortable having used the name.
Pitman told the tribual that the name had been just “banter” and there was no malice involved.
The tribunal found that “Half-dead” was age-related and derogatory.
“[Robson] told us he saw it as reflecting his age and he felt vulnerable because of his age. He felt that his job was at risk if he made a fuss,” employment judge Street says.
Asked whether he had asked colleagues to stop calling him the name, Robson told the judge: “It wasn’t worth the row and the argument. If I challenged management you seemed to get victimised, I came off worse, I could only deal with it by letting it go away. I just thought only a few years left at work, let’s just put up with it. I didn’t want the distress of it all.”
Robson did not make a formal complaint about the nickname until the very end of his employment.
The tribunal ordered Clarke’s Mechanical to pay Robson £24, 926.14, including awards for unfair dismissal, discrimination, injury to feelings and interest.
In 2012, a tribunal reached a similar conclusion that age bias was in play in the redundancy process.
In the case of Nolan v CD Bramall Dealership, workplace banter referring to an employee as ‘Yoda’, the Star Wars character, was found as evidence that Mr Nolan’s age and closeness to retirement had played a role in a decision to make him redundant. He won his claim for direct age-related discrimination.