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Carer called ‘slut’ by colleagues who saw her modelling photos was harassed, tribunal rules

21 May 2021 By Elizabeth Howlett

Experts say case highlights the importance of perception and banter to one person could easily be harassment to someone else

A carer whose colleagues called her a “slut” and suggested she visit a road “notorious for prostitutes” after they found her modelling photos on Facebook was the victim of harassment, a tribunal has ruled.

The tribunal said Ms C L Wallace, who was “proudly” a model, was “bound to be hurt by any implications she was a ‘slut’ or a prostitute” from colleagues.

It added that even if she herself had shown the pictures – in which she was wearing a black leather basque and fishnet stocking – it did not give her colleagues licence to imply she was “promiscuous.”



Further claims of direct sex discrimination, victimisation and unlawful deduction of wages were dismissed.

Wallace started working as a care assistant for HC One at Acomb Court Care Home in Hexham in October 2019 until her unrelated dismissal in January 2020.

In December, senior carer Helen Hewison added Wallace as a friend on Facebook. Wallace told the tribunal she had posted modelling photos of her wearing a “black leather basque and fishnet stockings” for a rock magazine on the social media site. On 21 December, a few days after adding Hewison as a friend, Wallace found Hewison at the nurses' station showing the photos to colleagues.

Wallace said Hewison commented that she looked like a “slut”. Hewison also allegedly asked a colleague “doesn’t she look like a slut?”, to which the colleague agreed, adding that she “looked like she belonged on a porn site”. A third colleague said she “looked like a go-go dancer”.

Wallace said she tried to “laugh it off” and went upstairs to get the rota. When she came back down Hewison allegedly asked if she was married and when Wallace said she wasn’t, but had cohabited with a couple of men over the years, Hewison said “one in the front and one in the back”.

Later that day, as she went to clock off, Wallace claimed Hewison shouted “where are you going? Pink Lane”, which the tribunal noted was a road in Newcastle “notorious for prostitutes”.

Wallace told the tribunal that she left work in tears and was so upset that a “member of the public” stopped to ask if she was OK.

On Christmas Day, while working together on the same floor Wallace confronted Hewison about her comments and claimed that Hewison said she was “only joking”, and that she had “stuck up” for her with other staff in the past but was not going to do so again.

Wallace said she then overheard Hewison relay their conversation to another member of staff, adding “if she’s not off my floor I am going to have her”. Later that day Hewison told Wallace that a resident’s relation had made a complaint, which she contested, and was moved to a different floor.

Two days later, on 27 December, an anonymous complaint was received through the whistleblowing hotline about the events on 21 December.

The home manager, Lynne McCarron, allegedly investigated the claim the next day, taking statements from all the staff involved, however she did not speak to Wallace. McCarron concluded the complaint “did not tally” with the statements taken during her investigation, and decided the incident was “banter”.

However, the tribunal found that McCarron made up her mind the complaint was untrue “without even speaking to the claimant”. The tribunal also said it believed that Wallace did not make the complaint herself.

The tribunal heard that after this, Wallace – who was still in her probationary period – was having difficulty performing tasks at work and was, according to the deputy manager Louise Dey, posing a risk of injuring residents.

Wallace had also failed to complete several online training modules, and Dey was unable to pass her as competent in the Safe People Handling course. As a result, Wallace was dismissed on 31 January 2020 – which the tribunal ruled was “wholly non-discriminatory” entirely because her employer felt she lacked competence and the will or ability to learn.

However, with regard to the harassment claim, Judge T M Garnon said even if Wallace had shown photographs of her modelling to others, “that is not licence to say to her things implying she was a promiscuous ‘slut’ or a prostitute”.

The judge added: “The comment about her looking like a “go-go dancer”, and maybe even a “porn star”, could be described as “banter” but those about being a slut and going to Pink Lane could not.”

Wallace was awarded compensation of £3,000 and interest of £320.

Danielle Parsons, employment partner at Irwin Mitchell, said the case showed the importance of properly investigating workplace complaints. “The employer in this case is likely to have had to pay considerable costs in defending this case both in legal costs and the management time lost, even if ultimately a low amount of compensation was awarded.”

Barry Ross, director and partner at Crossland Employment Solicitors, added that the tribunal serves as a stark reminder of the fine line between banter, harassment and the importance of perception. “Had Wallace actively participated in these jokes or referred to herself in the same way, then it may have changed the whole outcome of the case,” he said.

“It is important to remember that perception is key and one person’s banter can easily be another’s harassment.”

A spokesperson for Acomb Court told People Management: "We are clear that our staff should uphold the kind, caring values that our organisation strives for."

Wallace could not be reached for comment.

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