Gay aerospace engineer was discriminated against after coming out at work, tribunal rules

Judge awards £175,000 to employee who was subjected to homophobic comments by colleagues and passed over for promotion after enquiring about adoption leave

An engineer has been awarded nearly £175,000 after he suffered harassment and discrimination at work after revealing his sexual orientation. 

The Manchester employment tribunal ruled Peter Allen, who worked as a quality manager for aerospace component manufacturer Paradigm Precision, was harassed and directly discriminated against because of his sexual orientation.

It also found he was victimised and that he was subjected to detrimental treatment for seeking to take additional adoption leave. All this contributed to Allen being constructively unfairly dismissed.

The tribunal heard Allen, who joined Paradigm Precision in 2012, faced numerous homophobic comments after his sexuality became common knowledge in his workplace, including “limp-wristed” hand gestures directed towards him, being called “camp” and being sent an email depicting two stereotypical gay characters with comments directed towards him.

In an  interview with PinkNews, Allen said he was in line to become general manager of Paradigm Precision’s Burnley site, but things changed for the worse when he came out at work and made enquiries into adoption leave in 2018, when he and his husband were looking to start a family.

“I’d started to come out to select people in my team, as well as the HR director,” he said. “I confided that we had started to look into adoption. That’s when everything changed.”

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

Allen said the business would not make him a general manager because he was “going to be off for 12 months with parental leave”, and he felt he was “forced to choose between whether we become parents or whether I had a job”. 

After he was passed over for promotion on 5 June 2018, Allen said his sexual orientation was known within the workplace. As a result, he faced a string of homophobic incidents from colleagues.

The tribunal heard Allen was told he was “camp” by colleagues on various occasions between 12 March and 5 June 2018. Allen was also sent an email depicting two stereotypical gay characters with comments dircted towards him, and he was asked what his favourite “type” of man was at a work event on 20 April 2018.

Allen left Paradigm Precision in November 2018, and he brought claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation, unfair dismissal, victimisation and that he was subjected to a detriment because he sought to take additional adoption leave.

In his judgment, employment tribunal judge Mark Leach affirmed that the engineer had been “subject to harassment related to sexual orientation” and was passed over for promotion “because he sought to take additional adoption leave.”

The tribunal rejected further claims of harassment, victimisation, detrimental treatment and direct discrimination.

Allen was awarded £23,874 for unfair dismissal, £26,300 for injury to feelings, £70,345 for loss of earnings with interest, £18,078 for failure to follow the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures and £36,048 “grossing up” to take into account the tax payable – totalling £174,645.

Allen told PinkNews he was “elated” by the ruling, and he was happy the matter was finally settled. He added he planned to help companies to “wake up and take these things seriously and be more diverse and inclusive”. 

“There’s a lot of good that’s coming out of this,” Allen said. “I think it’s important within a business to know that there are LGBT+ people because that encourages others to be themselves and be open.”

Andrew Willis, head of legal at HR-inform, told People Management it is important to remember that it is unlawful to treat staff unfairly as a result of their sexual orientation and because they intend to start a family. 

“Not only can this lead to costly discrimination claims, but it can also be very damaging for the reputation of the company and overall staff morale, especially if some employees want to come out as gay but feel they will be unfairly treated as a result,” Willis said. 

He added companies should ensure they have a zero tolerance policy towards this form of behaviour and that all staff are aware of this policy. Willis said workers should also be encouraged to come forward if they do feel they are being mistreated in the workplace, and all accusations should be thoroughly investigated. 

Paradigm Precision could not be reached for comment.