For businesses equipped with sophisticated human resources departments, it should be second nature to treat men and women equally. As an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, however, costly lapses into discrimination remain all too common.
A male production line manager was accused of bullying by a female colleague. Her complaint was immediately treated as a formal grievance and, following a period of suspension, he was issued with a final written warning. He ultimately resigned and launched ET proceedings, alleging that he was less favourably treated because of his sex.
In upholding his claim, the ET noted that he had also made a complaint against his colleague. It was not, however, treated as a formal grievance or taken seriously. Her grievance was dealt with more quickly and expeditiously than his complaint and she was neither suspended nor subjected to disciplinary proceedings.
On the contrary, she was stepped up to fill his leadership role during his suspension. Following his return to work, his conduct was monitored for six weeks, a step that he found humiliating. There was a range of procedural failings in the grievance and disciplinary procedure followed; there was no clear rationale given for the final written warning and he was unable to appeal against it.
Given those factual findings, the employer bore the burden of proving that there was no discrimination. In awarding the man £9,000 for injury to his feelings, the ET was not satisfied that it had discharged that burden or that the man’s treatment was not motivated or influenced in a significant, more than trivial way by his sex.