Some people persist in thinking that applying sexualised labels to work colleagues is no more than a bit of innocent fun. However, the case of a woman who was referred to as ‘blondie’ by a more senior colleague showed how very wrong they are.
The man insisted that he never used the word in a derogatory manner, that he used it because it was easier to call out ‘blondie’ if he needed assistance and that he had no idea it upset her. After she launched proceedings, however, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that his use of the word was belittling and patronising.
The fact that she was not the only woman in their workplace to whom he attached the same moniker merely served to magnify its effect. It diminished her dignity as an individual. The label referred to an aspect of her physical appearance – her hair colour – and was shorthand for a woman who was attractive in a sexual context.
A number, although not all, of her other sexual harassment complaints were also upheld. She was a strong character and the ET found that, with bills to pay, she had, over an extended period, put up with a low or moderate level of harassment in the use of names referring to her physical characteristics, sexual innuendoes and unwanted touching.
The man’s conduct created an intimidating, offensive and humiliating environment for her, even if he failed to realise this and even if he gave no thought to the impact his words and actions had on her and other female colleagues. She eventually resigned in circumstances that amounted to unfair and wrongful constructive dismissal. The amount of compensation due to her would be assessed at a further hearing, if not agreed.