A lesbian employee has successfully sued for sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace after her boss plied her with pornography in the course of employment.
Ms Coleen Rowntree worked for Knauf UK as a forklift truck driver from 2008 until she resigned from her job in 2011. After resigning she subsequently made an employment tribunal claim for sexual orientation discrimination and harassment, claiming that she had been systematically discriminated against and harassed by her boss because she was a lesbian. The case came to the Employment Tribunal last month, with both Ms Rowntree and former and current employees of Knauf UK giving evidence to the Tribunal.
Ms Rowntree claimed that she had been subjected to a number of discriminatory and harassing comments and actions whilst she was employed by Knauf, including:
- Being subjected to watching the Babe Channel at work by her line manager, Mr Steven Evans
- Mr Evans making comments to her regarding her sexual activity with her partner and what she would do with the women on TV
- Mr Evans calling Ms Rowntree a “d***head” over the radio
- Mr Evans stating that he wished Ms Rowntree would leave her employment
Knauf UK’s lawyer stated that Ms Rowntree had not referred to her relationship breakdown in her initial statement to the tribunal and there was no evidence to say it was because of events at work, that she had not complained to her GP about her problems at work and that she had got another job within a month of leaving Knauf. However, Ms Rowntree’s solicitor claimed that the harassment she had suffered had struck at the “heart of her identity”.
The Employment Tribunal partially upheld Ms Rowntree’s claims, holding that she had suffered harassment related to her sexual orientation in the workplace and that this had the purpose or effect of violating her dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment for her in the workplace. She stated that she had felt suicidal because of the bullying that she had suffered at Knauf UK, that she had tried to kill herself. and that the workplace environment had affected her relationship with her partner detrimentally.
Chris Hadrill, an employment law solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Businesses should be extremely careful and vigilant in investigating any allegations of harassment, discrimination or victimization at work and should take steps to remedy such if it has occurred. If the business fails to do so then it may be held liable in the Employment Tribunal.”