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Court of Appeal rules workplace jibes do not have to be true to be discriminatory

The Court of Appeal has ruled that workplace jibes do not have to be true to be discriminatory in the case of a heterosexual man who was taunted for being gay.

In the case of Stephen English v Thomas Sanderson, a married man (English) took his employer to court when colleagues accused him of being homosexual because he was educated at boarding school.

According to Jeremy Consitt, employment solicitor at law firm Dolmans, colleagues used offensive comments against English several times and wrote lurid comments in the company's in-house magazine.

English took his employer to tribunal, which ruled he had been discriminated against on grounds of sexuality. Thomas Sanderson took the case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which overruled the case, as the claimant was not gay.

However the case went to the Court of Appeal and it ruled the comments were discriminatory.

Consitt said: "What is unusual about this case is there was no perceived issue on his sexuality. For the first time, the employment tribunal determined the employee was discriminated against on the grounds of sexuality even though he wasn't gay, which was known by his colleagues.

"This is the first case on this issue and could affect how colleagues interact with each other in the future. The judgment will affect all areas of discrimination and has really opened up many potential situations because people do make jibes in the workplace from time to time.

"There are two kinds of employers in regard to how this news is received - those who panic and become ultra politically-correct and those who will respond in a more pragmatic manner, dealing with these situations as and when they arise."