Damages for gay manager who quit over homophobic remark

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The Independent Online

A gay manager who found out that his boss had been demeaning him has won substantial damages for harassment in a landmark ruling that in effect prohibits the use of homophobic language in the workplace. The case, one of the first successful claims under the new sexual orientation regulations, has important implications for all employers because the offending comment was not made directly to the victim.

A gay manager who found out that his boss had been demeaning him has won substantial damages for harassment in a landmark ruling that in effect prohibits the use of homophobic language in the workplace. The case, one of the first successful claims under the new sexual orientation regulations, has important implications for all employers because the offending comment was not made directly to the victim.

Alan Whitehead, 52, resigned from his job at the Brighton Palace Pier after he found out that he had been the subject of a homophobic remark.

In his claim for unfair dismissal and harassment, Mr Whitehead told an employment tribunal sitting in Brighton that his dignity had been violated after a colleague informed him that she had overheard the general manager call him a "fucking chutney ferret".

In a written judgment sent to Mr Whitehead and his former employer, Brighton Marine Palace & Pier, the tribunal held that such a term was "exceptionally offensive" to gay men and has awarded the claimant nearly £10,000 in compensation.

The decision has delighted anti-discrimination campaigners who hope it will end the use of such language in the workplace.

Alan Wardle, director of public affairs at the gay rights organisation Stone-wall, described the case as "very distressing" which he said showed that employers can no longer allow staff to engage in "casual abuse" behind someone's back.

Warmly welcoming the ruling he said he hoped it would reverse the trend of increasing numbers of gay workers being forced out of their jobs because of similar verbal harassment. Research by Stonewall shows that up to 50 per cent of gay and lesbian workers suffer harassment.

Finding against Brighton Marine Palace, the tribunal found that Mr Whitehead's boss, Charles Quelch, had used the words "chutney ferret" and had also told a colleague that Mr Whitehead lived in an area of Brighton known as "chutney towers", a reference to its association with the city's gay community.

In coming to this conclusion, the tribunal rejected Mr Quelch's assertion that he never used such an expression although he said he had heard of the term from footballing colleagues shortly before taking up his post in Brighton.

In a 13-page judgment the tribunal chairman, Ian Soulsby, said he was satisfied that the reference to Mr Whitehead as a "chutney ferret" was in itself sufficient to justify Mr Whitehead resigning on the basis that there had been a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence by the Pier.

Mr Whitehead's solicitor, Mark James, an employment law specialist at Griffith Smith solicitors, said: "Most employers are aware that the law prohibits discrimination and harassment on grounds of sex or race. This decision emphasises the obligations on employers to ensure they do not discriminate against and harass homosexual employees. It sends out the right message that it is unacceptable to allow this sort of treatment to take place".