Security guard repeatedly misgendered by employer wins harassment case

Tribunal rules company’s conduct violated female employee’s dignity after continued references to her as a man went unchallenged

A female security guard who was repeatedly mistaken for a man by her employer was a victim of harassment as the conduct “violated her dignity”, a tribunal has ruled.

The London South Employment Tribunal found that Miss Sarwat Shah, who began working for Cordant Security – now Total Security Services – was the victim of harassment after her employer's continuous misgendering of her as male “made her cry”.

The tribunal unanimously concluded that it was reasonable for Shah to “be offended” and that a harassment claim was well founded, as she provided evidence suggesting it increased her “anxiety and stress”.

However, claims of unauthorised deductions relating to travel – which were the main focus of the grievance – were not upheld.

Shah started working for Cordant Security in October 2018. In 2019, while Shah was deployed to a high street supermarket, she was misgendered as male by her employer “at least five times in writing” from May to August. 

During a telephone conversation within the same time period, a male colleague in the data protection department apologised for his mistake in addressing her as male, but called her ‘Mr’ twice more.

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The court accepted that the mistake was down to an admin error during Shah’s onboarding, but found the continued referral to her as a man was “not challenged” by her employer, despite Shah raising the issue with HR and the data protection department. Shah said she found this “extremely upsetting”, and that the mistake had made her cry on a few occasions. The tribunal found she remained “very agitated by the Mr reference”.

Despite this, the company continued to misgender Shah at the tribunal, as witness statements from senior management and HR referred to her as male, which the tribunal found “very surprising”.

Judge Khalil added: “That the respondent operates in a male-dominated sector would suggest that even more attention ought to be paid to avoid discriminatory assumptions.”

The tribunal noted Shah did not raise the issue of harassment as part of her written grievance or appeal, and gave evidence that she was “more focused on the travel/money issue”. It added that she “raised many other issues beyond her travel payment issue”, but did raise the misgendering issue verbally with HR.

Shah was awarded £2,000, which was towards the lower end of what the judge could have awarded.

Total Security Services have been contacted for comment. Shah could not be contacted.