Language at work
In Miss MM Mariotti v Hippodrome Casino, an employee who worked in a casino was not successful in her claim for age discrimination after she was told to “grow up” by a colleague. The employee, Merona Marcello Mariotti, was a waitress employed at the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square, London. After an argument broke out with a younger waitress, her supervisor told her to “grow up”. She was told that she “should not expect youngsters to do the work” and that she should behave “in a more grown-up manner”.
She took her employer to a tribunal claiming age discrimination. However, the employment judge did not find that the words spoken were unfavourable treatment on the grounds of her age. He said it was an indication simply that the supervisor felt that she was behaving in an immature way at that time. Judge Goodman said: “It is commonplace to condemn as childish, quarrelsome and impulsive behaviour which is characteristic of children, but which adults are expected to have overcome, and to refer to responsible actions and attitudes as ‘grown up’.”
It is clear, therefore, that the employment judge considered the comments about being told to ‘grow up’ were more a rebuke for immature behaviour rather than a reference to the claimant's biological age, and this is why the claim was not successful.
Employment tribunals will always consider the context in which words were said in deciding whether comments made are discriminatory. Nevertheless, employers should frequently remind their staff and offer training in the use of language at work that is acceptable in the workplace and not discriminatory.
Christmas party disagreements
In Mrs C Palladino v Reed in Partnership, a HR adviser brought a claim for age discrimination because her younger colleagues wanted to go out clubbing for the company Christmas party. She wanted to go to a more family-friendly venue. The employee, Claudia Morrel-Zefonte Palladino, brought a claim against her employer, Reed in Partnership.
She was aged 45 and said her younger colleagues were “negative and derisive” in response to her recommendations and she was therefore treated unfavourably on the grounds of age. She claimed to the tribunal that she had suffered a ‘detriment’ as a result.
However, Judge Robin Lewis held that she had not in fact suffered any detriment simply because of the fact that the co-workers disagreed with her suggestions. The judge also made comments to the effect that Palladino's conduct when discussing the festive plans may in fact have contributed to her poor working relationship with her colleagues who were younger.
In the end, the senior management team decided to go to a restaurant and did not opt for going clubbing as suggested by the younger colleagues.
Lewis said: “Staff were asked to make a suggestion. [Palladino's] suggestion was supported by no one except [her]. That may have been on grounds of age; it may also have been a legitimate exercise of choice by colleagues who by a large majority outnumbered [her]. In the event, neither view prevailed. I do not accept a simple act of disagreement constitutes a detriment.”
Although the employee's claim was unsuccessful, employers need to think carefully when making arrangements for Christmas parties so that they are as inclusive as possible. If employees feel they are excluded from participating in events, this can be bad for morale and lead to feelings of mistrust towards the employer. Managers should promote an openly inclusive environment as far as possible to reduce the risk of any misunderstandings or unnecessary conflicts.
Glenn Jaques is a partner at Lupton Fawcett