Golf manager lost job for refusing to wear skirt to work, tribunal told

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The Independent Online
A FEMALE manager resigned from her job at the Professional Golfers' Association after she was told she was not allowed to wear trousers to work, an employment tribunal heard yesterday.

Judy Owen, 39, from Meriden, in the West Midlands, was signed off sick after three weeks in her pounds 28,000-a-year post at the PGA's headquarters at the prestigious Belfry golf course in Warwickshire. She claimed that in her second week she was told to go home and change into a skirt or dress to conform with the organisation's "smart conservative dress code".

Mrs Owen, a former cabin crew training manager with British Airways who now runs her own management training consultancy, is claiming sexual discrimination. She said she did not receive any written statement about dress code before joining the PGA. When she refused to change out of her trouser suit, she was bullied by her boss Gerry Paton, the director of training, she claimed.

Yesterday, dressed in a grey trouser suit, Mrs Owen told the tribunal in Birmingham that she was branded a "pleb", and that she overheard Mr Paton referring to professional women golfers as "dykes and lesbians". The atmosphere was "blatantly sexist", she said.

"I felt my time there was harassing, bullying, demeaning and threatening. I have never felt so abused in a working environment," she said, adding that she had been told: "Women cannot expect things to change by being challenging and forceful."

Mrs Owen said she was first confronted over the dress code on 15 April last year, her second day, but that the row came to a head on 5 May 1998, when Mr Paton ordered her "not to play games" and to go home to change. Shortly afterwards she was physically sick.

"I couldn't take any more of his behaviour," she said. "He suggested I should not be seen around the office wearing trousers. I said: `Are you asking me to go home and change,' and he said: `Yes, you can't be seen around the office like this'."

On 28 May she offered to resign. "I have never felt so abused and it has had a damaging effect on my self-esteem, confidence and career," she told the tribunal. "I have suffered stress. My family has suffered anxiety and financial worries. My eight-year-old daughter had to leave her independent school because we couldn't afford the fees."

Mrs Owen said she was reluctant to wear a skirt because of an "open staircase" at the PGA's headquarters. She saidshe preferred trousers because they were more comfortable and less costly.

Twelve of the PGA's female workers attended the hearing to support the organisation's chief executive, Sandy Jones, and Mr Paton. The PGA said Mrs Owen was not sent home to change and claimed its dress code is not discriminatory.

Outside the hearing, Mr Jones said: "We do have a traditional dress code for office staff as we believe it is important that employees can be distinguished from our members who are normally dressed in golf attire. The wearing of trousers by women at our offices is therefore not considered appropriate."

Jane Hall, training office manager at the PGA, said the office had a happy atmosphere: "None of us has a problem with the dress code."

The hearing continues.