UK Man Wins Landmark 'Gay' Harassment case

by Gopalan on  December 21, 2008 at 2:38 PM Medico Legal News
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UK Man Wins Landmark 'Gay' Harassment case
A UK man, forced to leave his job because of merciless taunting by his colleagues who took him to be a gay, has won the right to claim compensation from his employers.

Stephen English, 56, was a window blinds salesman when he was driven crazy by his fellow workers.

Ironically he was not a gay at all, but he was targeted by workers at Thomas Sanderson Blinds because he went to a boarding school and lived near Brighton, which is has a large gay community.

He joined the company, which is based near Portsmouth in 1996, and quickly rose to be in charge of a team of sales staff known as the 'Top Guns.'

But Mr English, who has three teenage daughters, eventually decided to take legal action when the firm's in-house magazine made up a story that he had attended Brighton's Gay Pride parade wearing 'skin-tight Lycra cycling shorts.'

His initial compensation claim against his former employers was rejected by an employment tribunal in February and by an appeal tribunal.

But now the Court of Appeal has ruled that someone can be harassed by homophobic comments even though they are not gay or thought to be homosexual, clearing the way for his compensation claim.

Lord Justice Sedley said it made not the slightest difference that Mr English was neither gay and nor did his work colleagues really think he was. He added: 'His case was that this cruel and puerile conduct drove him to leave his job.

'The incessant mockery created a degrading and hostile working environment, and it did so on grounds of sexual orientation.'

The judge said it could not have been the intention of harassment legislation 'that such a claimant must declare his or her true sexual orientation in order to establish that the abuse was "on grounds of sexual orientation."

'What is required is that the claimant's sexual orientation, whether real or supposed, should have been the basis of harassment directed at him or her. That is what was going on here.'

Mr English's counsel Frederick Reynolds QC had told the court that, despite his status as a married heterosexual, his client had been tormented because of his 'perceived possession-of stereotypical characteristics associated with homosexuals'. He argued that both UK and European anti-discrimination rules are 'patently intended' to protect people like Mr English.

The judgment means Mr English will be able to take his harassment claim back to an employment tribunal. If he wins, the same body will assess his compensation.

He won his case with the backing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Ryan Kisiel reported for Daily Mail.

John Wadham, group legal director of the commission, said: 'Bullying is unacceptable, whatever your background -  gay, straight, black or white.

'The fact that Stephen English's colleagues knew he wasn't gay does not excuse their behaviour nor should it prevent him from enjoying the same rights to dignity and respect at work.

'Until now, victims of this type of abuse had little or no legal protection. By supporting Mr English's case, the commission has helped to clarify the law to protect those who suffer harassment based on old-fashioned stereotypes.'

Source: Medindia

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