Lesbian employee ‘told to keep sexuality secret’ wins discrimination case

30 Jan 2019 By Lauren Brown

Tribunal hears concerns over ‘old school’ business owner led to ‘odd and uncomfortable’ demand

A lesbian employee who was told by her boss to keep her sexuality hidden was the victim of discrimination, a tribunal has ruled.

Ashleigh McMahon, who worked as a quality control manager at Lancashire-based textiles firm Redwood TTM, was told not to share her sexuality because she was the only gay employee.

The Liverpool Employment Tribunal heard McMahon disclosed her sexuality to the firm’s managing director, Darren Pilling, in her first week of employment.

Pilling then reportedly told her “not to make it common knowledge that she was gay” because “the owner of the business was ‘old school’ and that the company did not have any other gay people working for it”.

McMahon worked for Redwood TTM for eight months May 2017 until she was made redundant that December.

McMahon told the tribunal she found the demand “odd and uncomfortable” but had complied as she was mindful of the impact it could have on her employment, as she had only just begun work.

McMahon worked for Redwood TTM for eight months May 2017 until she was made redundant that December.

Pilling denied that McMahon had disclosed her sexuality early on in her employment or that he told her to disclose it – however, the tribunal found in favour of McMahon’s versions of events.

It found McMahon had been “discriminated against on the grounds of her sexual orientation” because she had been “less favourably treated by being asked not to disclose her sexuality by comparison with a hypothetical person not sharing her protected characteristic”.

Employment Judge Wardle added: “In terms of these alleged discriminatory acts, we believe that the claimant did make Mr Pilling aware of her sexuality early into her employment, despite his protestations to the contrary, and while not considering him to be homophobic in any way we also believed that he did suggest that she kept it under wraps as we felt that the reference to Mr Atherton being ‘old school’ had a ring of authenticity.”

A remedy hearing will now be arranged. Redwood TTM declined to comment. 

The tribunal dismissed a further claim by McMahon that she was unfairly dismissed because she had raised concerns around health and safety.

Adele Edwin-Lamerton, specialist employment and discrimination lawyer at Pattinson & Brewer, said that in order to avoid facing claims, it was vital to be mindful of the workplace environment. 

“Employees should not be required to divulge deeply personal information about themselves, nor should they be prevented from discussing their private life should they wish to do so,” she said.

Edwin-Lamerton added employers might want to implement a specific LGBT+ policy, in addition to their equal opportunities policy, to make it clear that their workplace is an LGBT+ friendly environment.

“They should ensure that their disciplinary policies are clear on what behaviour could constitute bullying and harassment, that there is a clear grievance process in place and they should also consider providing training,” she said, but added: “Policies are only as good as the paper they are written on [and] any grievances should be thoroughly investigated.” 

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