Can a man bring a sex discrimination claim? - Paul Doran Law

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Can a man bring a sex discrimination claim?

Can a man bring a sex discrimination claim?Can a man bring a sex discrimination claim?

The short answer is yes, a man CAN bring a sex discrimination claim. This article gives more details.

Imagine overhearing a conversation between two working men who don’t know each other but who pass each other on the street in South London. Here’s what they say:

“Ello, mate!”

“Ow ya doing’, fella?”

That actually happened, quite recently. Legally, men calling each other “Mate” and “Fella” is no problem at all.

But what if one of them called the other “Baldie?”

Or a female boss told a male worker to “Man up”?

Or male staff were paid less than female staff for a similar role at the same workplace?

Could that amount to sex discrimination? Yes, it could, as shown in these cases.

Example 1

For 24 years, Tony Finn worked as an electrician for the British Bung Company in Yorkshire (they make wooden cask closures for the brewing industry).

He never had any disciplinary problems during all that time. But he had two arguments about the maintenance of equipment with factory supervisor, Jamie King, in 2019 and 2021. On both occasions, Jamie referred to Tony as a “bald c***”.

Then, in May 2021, Tony was dismissed.

He had felt the comments were personally offensive, so he went to the Employment Tribunal in 2022.

The Employment Judge, Jonathan Brain, ruled there was a connection between the word “bald” and the protected characteristic of sex.

Tony therefore won his claims of harassment relating to sex, unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal. His claim of harassment relating to age was dismissed.

In 2023, the company went to The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) arguing that it wasn’t sex discrimination because women can be bald too, perhaps as a fashion choice or due to cancer treatment.

The EAT found that protection against sex-related harassment in the Equality Act is intended to apply to acts that are specific to being male or female, that a man was more likely to be bald than a woman, and so more likely to be on the receiving end of comments about it.

The Judge said: “Mr King made the remark with a view to hurting the claimant by commenting on his appearance which is often found amongst men.”

He found that baldness is inherently related to sex, and that Jamie’s conduct was:

The EAT therefore upheld the original decision.

In 2008, a teacher claimed he was a victim of disability discrimination because of his baldness. However, he lost his tribunal claim after the judge said baldness was “not an impairment” and so was not covered by the then Disability Discrimination Act, now the Equality Act 2010.

Example 2

Peter Marsh was the only male employee in the Cheetham and Crumpsall health visiting team employed by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.

He experienced several episodes where he felt he was discriminated against by his female co-workers because of his sex.

Flashback to 2018. Peter asked a Nursery Nurse, Ms Whittall, to assist him with some work, but she ignored him. He reminded her that he was a band 6 and she was a band 4, so he was entitled to call on her to help. After this fall-out, they both complained about each other to the Head of Service, Lisa Sanchez. Lisa conducted a mediation meeting in which Peter felt she’d sided with Ms Whittall.

Peter was a trade union representative and had raised concerns about a pilot scheme that members feared would add to their already heavy workload. At a team meeting the day after the altercation, Lisa asked for a show of hands to indicate “Who’s in Pete’s union and who agrees with Pete?” He felt her enquiry was aggressive, confrontational, and had the intention of dividing the team against him.

At another team meeting a short while later, Tony claimed that Lisa ignored his presence completely, because she ended by saying “Goodbye ladies”.

Over the next few months, tensions escalated as managers were attempting to change the team’s working pattern.

Lisa held a meeting in January 2019 to discuss the reshuffle. Peter wasn’t there that day, but his colleagues criticised him in his absence, claiming that their voices weren’t being heard in trade union meetings. Lisa didn’t challenge or counter these concerns, which effectively allowed the other team members to continue to be negative about Peter and his trade union role.

The next day, he complained that he received a “grilling” from team members about the proposed moves.

Meanwhile, Lisa told her managers about the team meeting and said there there was a breakdown in the relationship between Peter and another Nursery Nurse. She thought his trade union duties were having an impact on the team which led to a “strong feeling of disgruntlement” about him and another trade union representative.

That same month, two Health Visitors in the team emailed Lisa with their concerns about the reshuffle and low team morale.

In a February 2019 team meeting, one team member raised concerns about the office atmosphere. The discussion became heated, during which some team members blamed Peter. Trying to regain control, Lisa said that people could only speak when spoken to. Peter objected, at which point Lisa lost her temper and told him: “You need to man up!”

After the meeting, Peter submitted a ‘Dignity at Work’ complaint, saying – as a lone male in the workplace – he felt bullied and harassed by several female staff.

After a prolonged investigation, his complaints were dismissed, as were complaints made about him by some female colleagues.

He therefore went to the Employment Tribunal with claims of direct sex discrimination.

The Tribunal concluded that Peter was unlawfully discriminated against because of his sex:

Example 3

We often share relevant case studies that we didn’t work on, such as the two stories detailed above. But this is one of ours. A landmark case, which we were delighted to win for our clients.

Paul DoranWe represented 18 male caretakers and tradesmen who were employed by the University of Wales, Trinity St David (UWTSD).

Our clients originally worked at Swansea Metropolitan University which merged with UWTSD. However, they found they were paid less than their female counterparts on the same pay grade, including secretaries and office workers, due to a decision made by Swansea Metropolitan University in 2007.

Initially, UWTSD argued that the pay difference was not due to gender but because of changes to the men’s contracts.

We helped the male employees sue for sex discrimination at the Cardiff employment tribunal, and won them around £500,000 in compensation.

The university’s legal team agreed to drop the case and agreed to pay out to the claimants and five more men on the same pay grade.

We think this might be the biggest group of men to have launched sex discrimination claims in Britain.

Paul Doran said: “I’m absolutely delighted for my clients… While it is disappointing that they were required to take it all the way to tribunal, the acknowledgment that they were right all along will be just as enjoyable as the compensation they will receive.”

What this means to you

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful direct discrimination for one person to treat another less favourably because of a protected characteristic such as their sex.

Your employer should foster an inclusive culture in your workplace where discriminatory language or behaviour is not tolerated. All staff should be trained so they know what behaviours are unacceptable and what they need to do if they witness or experience inappropriate behaviour. For example, people at work shouldn’t make offensive comments about your gender or physical appearance.

Sex discrimination claims are not exclusively brought by women. Male employees can find themselves treated less favourably because of their sex. If it happens to you, please give us a call. We’ll be happy to help.

Related reading

For more about this topic, please see our related articles:

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