A salesperson at a courier firm who was subjected to ‘demeaning’ and explicit sexual comments has won her claim for sex discrimination, harassment and constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal.
Ms S Stannard, who worked at Overseas Courier Service (London), was given nicknames including “legs” and “stretch” by other employees, and at one point was asked by a colleague: “can I get you pregnant?”.
Sex discrimination and harassment
The claimant said a “sexist” culture existed at the male-dominated transport company, which was reflected in the comments often directed at her and other women. She told the tribunal: “It was just the norm, ‘double entendre’ were a regular feature of conversations with sexualised comments being made again and again.”
When she was pregnant in 2013, colleagues made comments about the size of her breasts, including claims that she was “busting out of [her] shirt” and had “sexy curves”.
When she informed the company directors of her pregnancy, one allegedly joked that she should take back her comment so that he could make her redundant.
One colleague said that he and the claimant could “tone up together in bed” and made several other explicit comments. The claimant said the colleague became impossible to deal with and hard to manage when he realised there would not be a relationship with her, and she lodged a grievance about his behaviour. The colleague later resigned.
In 2017, Stannard suffered a slipped disc and was off work for three weeks. Upon returning, she needed to attend physiotherapy sessions during her work hours.
Her work came under scrutiny at this point, with the company directors claiming that she needed to work additional hours to make up the physiotherapy time and work in the office on Fridays, rather than at home as she had been doing to several years.
She said that after her injury there was a “step change” in the way she was treated at the firm.
One of the directors took over a sales lead she had been working on which meant she would not be paid any commission on any deal reached with the prospective client.
She told the tribunal: “the amount of times the directors shouted at me during the last few months of my working for the business and reduced me to tears was extraordinary.”
In 2018, a head of e-commerce was appointed at the firm. The claimant felt this role encroached on her responsibilities in customer acquisition and the on-boarding of new e-commerce accounts.
She lodged a grievance alleging sex discrimination and harassment. Her claims were rejected and she made an appeal, but she told the tribunal that the entire process “failed me and had been discriminatory against me”.
Giving evidence to the tribunal, the respondent said Stannard had not made her feelings about some of the comments directed at her known at the time, and said that if she had done so they would have adjusted their behaviour and not indulged in “banter” that would upset her.
One of the directors is said to have asked whether she planned to retire because her husband “earns well”. The tribunal found that this comment, and several others, were related to her sex, as they were “intricately connected to her status as a wife and a mother”.
The Reading employment tribunal found many of the comments directed at the claimant during her time at the firm were at times “insulting, other times lascivious, other times attempts at humour but always demeaning and unwanted”.
“The tribunal is satisfied that these types of comments were made to the claimant, they were directed at her because she was a woman. They relate in some instances to explicit sexual references that would not be made to a man,” employment judge Andrew Gumbiti-Zimuto said.
Her claim of victimisation was dismissed by the tribunal.