Straight man sexually harassed by gay taunts

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The Independent Online

An employee who says he was driven out of his job by the constant torment of being called a "faggot" by his workmates even though they knew he was not gay has won a court ruling that he was the victim of sexual harassment.

Stephen English, happily married for 20 years and with three teenage children, complained that the ribbing and teasing began when a fellow employee discovered that he had been to boarding school and now lived in Brighton, which has a large gay population.

His compensation claim against his former employer, blind and awning maker Thomas Sanderson, was rejected by an employment tribunal and by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

But today the Court of Appeal, by a 2-1 majority, ruled that someone can be "harassed" by homophobic banter even though he is not gay, is not thought to be gay by his fellow workers and he accepts they do not believe him to be gay.

The final straw which prompted Mr English to take legal action was when the firm's in-house magazine referred to his attendance at Brighton's Gay Pride parade wearing "skin-tight Lycra cycling shorts".

Today the court held that he had a case based on harassment "on grounds of sexual orientation" under the 2003 Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations.

Lord Justice Sedley said it did not matter whether Mr English was gay or not.

The "calculated insult to his dignity" and the consequently intolerable working environment were sufficient to bring his case within the regulations.

"The incessant mockery ('banter' trivialises it) created a degrading and hostile working environment, and it did so on grounds of sexual orientation," the judge said.

The fact that Mr English was not gay, and that his tormentors knew it, had just as much to do with his sexual orientation as if he were gay.

Lord Justice Lawrence Collins agreed in allowing Mr English's appeal.

Lord Justice Laws said he would have dismissed the appeal because actual sexual orientation was not the grounds of the conduct complained of.

The case is now expected to return to the employment tribunal for further hearing and assessment of compensation.