Sales of lads’ mags could amount to sexual harassment, lawyers tell shops

Staff forced to handle such magazines could take legal action against employers

Shops could be sued by their own staff and customers if they continue selling so-called “lads’ mags”, according to legal advice obtained by group of female lawyers.

In an open letter to supermarkets and newsagents, the lawyers claim that the display and sale of magazine with Page 3-style front cover images could constitute sexual harassment or sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. They have urged retailers to stop selling the magazines or face the “possible and plausible” prospect of legal action.

The letter is signed by lawyers from several prominent legal practices including Matrix Chambers, where Cherie Blair is a barrister. It has been organised gender equality campaigners UK Feminista and Object to launch their “Lose the lads’ mags” campaign.

The legal advice from Aileen McColgan, a barrister at Matrix Chambers, warns of the “effect [even if not the purpose] of violating [a worker’s] dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her [or him].” It continues: “Requiring employees to work with pornographic material may amount to indirect discrimination connected with sex, and/or with religion or belief (including a belief in gender equality).”

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and WH Smiths have been specifically targeted by the campaign. The campaigners are particularly concerned about the magazines Loaded, Nuts, Zoo and FHM. Two years ago most supermarkets agreed to stock “lads’ mags” out of eye line – either on high shelves or under plain covers – but have defended their right to sell them.

Kat Banyard director of UK Feminista, told The Independent: “It’s outrageous that [retailers] are stocking products that leave them open to legal vulnerability. We hope that shops will take their corporate social responsibility commitments seriously and act. We want shops to remove the lads’ mags without legal action having to be taken but if they don’t legal action is possible and plausible.

“The bottom line is that [these magazines are] deeply harmful. Up until now customers and employees have thought they have to put up with it. This new legal advice has huge implications for retailers.”

Anna Mazzola, an associate at Bindmans LLP and another of the 14 signatories, said: “The companies that own those shops should be aware that their legal position is precarious – making employees handle and sell these magazines will, in some circumstances, amount to unlawful sexual discrimination or harassment.”

Sales of lads’ mags have dropped significantly in the past few years. Nuts sold just 80,186 by the end of 2012, down 30 per cent in one year. FHM was down 18.5 per cent to about 115,000, and Zoo was down 19.3 per cent to 44,068.