A female driver and trainee highway inspector has been awarded almost £74,000 after an employment tribunal (ET) found she had been constructively unfairly dismissed following harassing behaviour by her manager and supervisor.
The Nottingham ET found Kim Beaney, who worked for Highways England from April 2017 until her resignation in August the same year, was the victim of harassment and discrimination by her colleagues, which led to her resignation a few months into her employment.
The tribunal found Beaney had been “deliberately placed at a different depot to that which she was supposed to attend”. It found this was for the “sole purpose” of her line manager, Grant Bosence – who was attracted to her – ensuring she worked alongside a close friend of his. This friend, Steven Curtis, also became Beaney’s supervisor because of the assignment.
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The tribunal said Bosence deliberately did this so Curtis could “extol [Bosence’s] virtues as a potential romantic interest” for Beaney, and to “control or exert authority” over her.
In her ruling, Judge Elizabeth Heap ruled the harassing behaviour of Bosence and Curtis “marred the course” of Beaney’s employment in a role which “she had coveted”. She said Bosence’s motivation “was not to assign the claimant the most appropriate supervisor and depot but because he was sexually attracted to her.”
Several other claims of harassment were dismissed.
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Beaney started work for Highways England in April 2017 as a driver and was told the role would also encompass being a trainee highways inspector, with an opportunity to progress in the organisation. She was initially interviewed by Bosence, who later initiated unsolicited text conversations with Beaney. The tribunal heard it was unusual for him to do this with prospective employees.
Tribunal documents found Beaney had originally been allocated to the Leicester Forest East location, but Bosence reassigned her to Sandiacre because he wanted her at a depot working alongside Curtis.
Beaney told the tribunal that Curtis would ask her personal questions, make reference in positive terms about Bosence and suggest that Beaney “could do worse” than Bosence for a romantic partner.
Beaney spoke with Curtis about Bosence on 10 April 2017, indicating he had taken her mobile number from her job application to text her after her interview, that he had been pursuing her since that time, and that he could get in trouble because of his conduct. Curtis said he would speak to Bosence about this, and later confirmed he had done so.
After this discussion, Beaney participated in an induction on 12 April. It was here she discovered from another trainee that she was originally placed at the Leicester Forest East depot. She was also concerned that she was the only new inductee who had not received a key fob and identification badge and called Bosence to raise her concerns.
During this conversation, Bosence told her to speak to Curtis, and said she was being “troublesome”. Beaney persisted in her concerns, adding that because of Bosence’s behaviour people had started to question the nature of their relationship – which Beaney insisted was platonic. She requested to work with another inspector, but Bosence refused. Beaney then requested to transfer to Leicester Forest East depot, which was also refused.
On 13 April, when Beaney arrived at work, she was asked by Curtis to “go for a cigarette with him”. When outside, Curtis recounted a conversation with Bosence the previous evening in which Bosence alleged Beaney had told him Curtis had not been doing his job.
Curtis also said Bosence raised his alleged relationship with Beaney, but she denied any romantic relationship with Bosence, and Curtis replied Bosence had told him otherwise.
As a result of this conversation, Beaney told Curtis she was going to file a formal complaint. She left work and contacted the Highways England’s employee telephone helpline. Beaney didn’t return to work until 18 April.
On 17 April, Bosence filed his own complaint about Beaney to HR, alleging she had a poor attitude and had left work without permission on 13 April. The tribunal said it had little doubt this was a “pre-emptive strike” on Bosence’s part to paint Beaney in a “poor light”, as he knew she was going to report him to HR.
On the same day, Beaney wrote to HR to raise a grievance against Bosence. She said he had taken her personal details from her application, had thereafter contacted her by text and phone call, had made it clear he wanted to be “more than friends”, would not accept she did not wish to have a relationship with him, and had continued to harass her.
She also referred to the problems she had with Curtis and said she had been subjected to harassment and bullying.
Beaney’s grievance was investigated initially by Malcolm Dangerfield, a specialist manager with Highways England, as well as Beaney’s second line manager and Bosence’s manager. The tribunal found he had been “ill-prepared” for the grievance hearing on 24 April as he only had the documentation in front of him “some five minutes” before the meeting.
In a letter to Beaney dated 7 June, Dangerfield upheld part of her complaint of sexual harassment and bullying. He ruled that the evidence supported the events of Beaney’s complaint, but it did not support “the intent that is indicated” in her grievance.
Dangerfield set out in the letter he would request senior management review the situation with Bosence and take further action as deemed necessary, and he himself would speak with Curtis. But he refused Beaney’s request to be relocated away from the Sandiacre depot.
Beaney was signed off sick with stress for one month from 2 May, and she submitted further fit notes covering the period until 31 August. She told the tribunal she never returned to work for Highways England after being signed off sick.
Beaney appealed against the grievance outcome on 8 June, but her appeal was not upheld and no further actions were recommended.
The appeal tribunal said the investigator had asked Beaney what she had done to stop this behaviour. After reading messages between Beaney and Bosence, the investigator upheld her initial view that Beaney had been “happy to flirt and perhaps have a relationship” with Bosence.
Following the appeal outcome, Beaney resigned from her role in an email to Dangerfield dated 30 August, in which she stated her repeated attempts to complain about the behaviour of both Bosence and Curtis, and that she had no trust or confidence in Highways England as an employer.
Before her resignation, on 8 August, Beaney presented claims of sexual harassment, direct discrimination and victimisation against Highways England, Bosence and Curtis to the employment tribunal.
The tribunal ordered Highways England, Bosence and Curtis to jointly pay Beaney £73,619, consisting of financial losses, injury to feelings and damages as well as interest.
Commenting on the ruling, Paul Ryman, partner at Gunnercooke, said this was a “depressingly familiar story” where a female employee has been harassed by a male colleague in a position of power.
The key lesson was to ensure all allegations of sexual harassment were properly investigated, said Ryman. “Employers need to make sure that, particularly for complex complaints of this nature, the investigator is trained and experienced, and also that they are independent and approach the investigation with a genuinely open mind,” he said.
Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula, said managers in particular should always be prepared to draw a clear distinction between their professional and personal relationships.
“The context will always be critical in these situations, and employers need to be aware of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour,” Palmer added. “While the circumstances in this case are extreme, inappropriate behaviour could be as simple as putting kisses on the end of a text to a colleague, or actively encouraging someone to become romantically involved with another member of staff.”
A Highways England spokesperson said: “This kind of behaviour does not align with our values and we take this judgment seriously. We are committed to providing an inclusive and connected working environment, in which individuals are valued and respected.
“Since the case we have revised and updated our equality, diversity and inclusion policies and procedures, to help prevent further such occurrences.”
Beaney could not be reached for comment.