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LGBT+ Vodafone worker wins discrimination case

An LGBT+ worker at a Vodafone franchise has won £30,000 from an employment tribunal after being subjected to harassment in the workplace, including being told she looked like a "normal lassie" despite being gay.

The employee, referred to as Ms C, was the subject of several inappropriate questions and statements during her three months working for Thistle Communications. 

In addition to her senior manager asking "how do lesbians have sex" on multiple occasions, one worker told her that they didn't think LGBT+ should be taught in schools.

She was also told by another colleague that she "wasn't financially driven" because she didn't have children.

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Ms C took time off work for stress before eventually quitting, and suing the company for sex discrimination and victimisation.

Thistle Communications paid £25,000 for injury to feelings, £1,100 for financial loss and £2,600 for its failure to follow workplace procedures.

Employment judge Ian McPherson said: "It is to be hoped that lessons have been learned about the importance of working relationships within the workplace, the need to avoid discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace.

"It seems to us that there are many issues arising from this case and what support, if any, the franchisor makes available to employees of franchisees as regards LGBT+ support."

Research from job site RemoteWorker found 16% of employees have witnessed homophobic behaviour at work, while almost a third (31%) have seen sexist behaviour taking place.

Mrs C told the tribunal that the experience left her humiliated and alienated. 

She said: "This has cost me months of my life. I have endured those comments from start to finish in that employment and it has made me feel like irreparable damage has been caused, I have never been humiliated like that.

"Being asked to describe the inner workings of my sexual orientation to a grown man, whilst he smiles at me when asking, was so disturbing and I’ve never been so oversexualised in my personal life or working career."

Rhys Wyborn, employment partner at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, said all UK businesses could learn a lesson from the case even though it was tried in a Scottish tribunal.

He said: “Making jokes or comments of a sexual nature or at the expense of a colleague’s sexuality is not acceptable and employees are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 from day one.

“Even though this was heard by the Scottish employment tribunal, there are plenty of lessons for all employers, including just how important it is to have policies, procedures and training in place relating to equality and discrimination. Whilst this is a particularly high-profile case involving Vodafone, discrimination claims can be raised against employers of any size."