A lesbian Vodafone store worker has been awarded £30,000 in compensation after her manager asked her “How do lesbians have sex?”.
Following an employment tribunal in Glasgow, the woman, identified as Ms C for legal reasons, successfully sued her former employers after she faced gender and sexual orientation discrimination from multiple managers and a co-worker while employed under Vodafone. Ms C maintains that she was “humiliated” by senior staff as they asked her an array of “sexually explicit questions”.
The series of inappropriate comments began around three months into her employment, between October 2021 and January 2022. Ms C was hired as a sales assistant for the Vodafone franchise Thistle Communications, which has since gone into liquidation.
The tribunal heard a range of disturbing and inappropriate anecdotes that led to Ms C ceasing her employment due to health concerns.
In one incident, her senior manager Bilal Shahid asked her, “How do lesbians have sex then, I’m intrigued”. When Ms C refused to answer this question, he asked again when customers were not present.
Another manager, Matthew Graham, told Ms C that she looked like a “normal lassie” rather than a lesbian, which led to Ms C deducing that being queer, in Graham’s eyes, was unusual or strange, furthering her feelings of alienation in the workplace.
Graham went on to make numerous comments that would lead to Ms C ceasing her employment, including commenting on another gay woman, referring to her as “a waste” and asking her on a separate occasion, “What’s a ‘f*g hag’?”
Ms C claimed that Graham also insisted she was not “financially driven” as she did not have children.
The tribunal heard that when speaking to Ms C about children and education he said “Love who you want to love but when it comes to affecting my child, I don’t think LGBT should be taught in schools.”
When relaying her experience of being asked such sexually inappropriate questions in a professional setting, Ms C stated: “I’ve never been so oversexualised in my personal or working career”.
Ms C told the tribunal, “I don’t think they have taken seriously the damage this has caused to my mental health”. She did not “feel safe to return to an environment which has humiliated me, alienated me and has made me need to seek counselling”.
She had made formal complaints to both the Vodafone LGBT email address and to Thistle Communications managing director Michael McDade in November 2021, however, due to the lack of action taken, Ms C resigned after two months of sick leave, the tribunal heard.
Ms C then sued the company for discrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal.
The employment tribunal ruled in her favour, ordering Vodafone to pay compensation and asserting that being asked about her sex life was discrimination and that she had been a victim of harassment on the basis of her gender and sexuality. Her unfair dismissal claim was not carried forward as she had not been working in the company long enough.
Vodafone via Thistle communications paid a total of £30,000 in compensation to Ms C. This sum includes £25,000 for injury to feelings, £1,100 for financial loss and £2,600 for the failure to follow approved workplace procedures.
This case sets a precedent in regards to the toleration of inappropriate behaviour in workplaces towards the LGBTQ+ community. Speaking on the case, employment judge Ian McPherson stated: “it is to be hoped that, arising from this case, lessons have been learned… about the importance of working relationships within the workplace, the need to avoid discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace.”
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