A funeral home manager who was sacked after referring to a female colleague as ‘honey’ and ‘babe’ has lost a sex discrimination case after claiming it was the same as calling a male co-worker ‘mate’.
The ruling emerged from a case brought by Mike Hartley, who was sacked from Blackpool firm D Hollowell & Sons for making ‘very inappropriate’ and ‘insulting’ comments to young women he worked with.
A panel heard he uttered a series of sexually suggestive remarks to colleague Rachel Anderton while calling her pet names such as ‘honey’, ‘babe’ and ‘chick’.
Hartley, who had recently been promoted to HR manager, tried to add her on Facebook ‘immediately’ after meeting and asked what her ‘vital statistics’ where when organising her uniform size, it was claimed.
During one funeral appointment, she asked him to look for something under a bassinet and, as he did so, he allegedly asked: ‘What am I looking up, your skirt?’
The panel was also told he frequently walked into the office while announcing ‘honey, I’m home!’, called her a ‘good girl’, ‘Rachie boobies’, and said she was ‘curvy in all the right places’.
Hartley was suspended after Ms Anderton complained in 2019 and apologised for making her feel uncomfortable – but argued he was only trying to be ‘warm’ and ‘welcoming’.
At a disciplinary hearing the next year said he uses pet names for men and women but not those older than him out of ‘respect’.
He was sacked after he denied Ms Anderton’s account of the skirt incident but admitted to saying something along the lines of ‘I’m not looking up your skirt’.
Appealing the decision at a tribunal, he accused his colleagues of orchestrating a ‘witch hunt’ against him and said the MeToo movement had influenced his sacking.
He argued his sacking was a case of sex discrimination against him because, while he would call female colleagues terms like ‘chick’ and ‘honey’, he would also call male colleagues ‘pet names’ such as ‘mate’ or ‘pal’.
The panel agreed he had been unfairly dismissed as the allegations against him were not properly investigated – but found the company had been right to fire him anyway and refused to award him compensation.
It also rejected his sex discrimination claim because the terms he used for men did not undermine colleagues in the same way that his terms for women did.
Employment Judge Pauline Feeney said: ‘Calling someone “mate” or “lad” is not a “pet” name, in our opinion it is a nickname.
‘They are not demeaning… however, chick, babes, bobs, honey, hun and sweetie are all demeaning and infantilising ways of referring to women.
‘As the manager, his comments were totally unacceptable. The incidents with Miss Anderson were plainly sexual harassment.
‘He had made inappropriate and disgusting comments to Miss Anderton.’
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