Tutor asked to address personal hygiene issue with mature student was victim of sex discrimination, tribunal finds

Judge highlights charity’s assumption that women were ‘better suited’ to such a task and that at least one man could have also performed it

Tutor asked to address personal hygiene issue with mature student was victim of sex discrimination, tribunal finds

A French tutor who was asked multiple times by managers to address an issue of personal hygiene with an adult male student was a victim of sex discrimination, a tribunal has ruled.

Miss H Jones, who worked for a charity providing French classes to elderly people, told the tribunal she believed she was asked to do this because the managers believed it would be more suitable for a woman to address hygiene issues with students.

The tribunal found this to be true, and said there was “a level of conscious or unconscious assumption that women were better suited to that task”, and that on all occasions there was at least one man who would have been able to perform that task.

Additionally, both the tribunal and the charity’s current CEO felt that on some of the occasions it “would have been more appropriate for the manager ([of] either sex), not a tutor, to deal with the issue”.

A separate claim of harassment would have succeeded but was submitted out of time, while another claim of indirect sex discrimination failed. Jones also made multiple claims of detriments because of protected disclosures, none of which succeeded.

Jones taught French at Open Age in west London, a charity providing a range of activities to elderly people, from 2007 until her relationship with the organisation ended in 2019. She worked part-time in a self-employed capacity.

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During a period between spring 2018 and spring 2019, Jones was asked by more than one manager to approach a 94-year-old male student about an issue of his personal hygiene relating to an involuntary release of urine which could be smelt by other students in the class. This happened on “five or so occasions”. 

The tribunal found that these events had led to Jones feeling “very embarrassed” though not necessarily upset, and she told the tribunal she felt that it was inappropriate to ask a woman to address the issue with a man.

Jones had not initially objected to these requests, and did not seek to refuse them; however the tribunal noted that she may have been concerned about the effects of refusing the requests.

Although she did not raise a grievance at the time, Jones brought the claim of harassment related to sex alongside several other claims after she parted ways with the charity following the charity’s decision to end its relationship with her. (The charity cited the failure to report a safeguarding issue as one of the reasons for ending the relationship, and the tribunal found that “no part” of the charity’s decision to stop engaging with Jones was to do with her sex.)

The tribunal also noted that a claim of harassment would have succeeded but was brought out of time. It followed an incident where Jones was told by a manager during a conversation over staffing not to “go with your ways” to the CEO. Jones took offence to the comment, interpreting it as “something alluding to ‘feminine wiles’”. She found this comment “demeaning” and relating to her sex.

The tribunal found the comment had the effect of creating a “somewhat humiliating environment”, and that it amounted in law to harassment. However, it was brought six months out of time, and so failed.

Jones was awarded £4,000 plus £1,000 interest for “personal injury to feelings” relating to the claim about personal hygiene. All other claims failed.

In a statement, Open Age said: "Open Age fully accepts the findings of the tribunal and have reviewed our ways of working in light of it".

“Our aim is to always deliver a high-quality experience to our members and we work with our staff, volunteers and external tutors to ensure this”, it said.

Jones could not be reached for comment.