Boris Johnson 'could be breaching sex discrimination laws' for defending Sir Tim Hunt over sexism row

The Mayor of London could fall foul of the sex discrimination act for backing the claim that women cry more than men, according to Labour MP Chi Onwurah

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Boris Johnson could be breaching gender discrimination laws after he came to the defence of Sir Tim Hunt, the Nobel laureate who resigned over comments about women in science, an MP has claimed.

The Mayor of London wrote in the Daily Telegraph that Sir Tim "did not deserve to be pilloried" for claiming that women scientists cry, and should be reinstated to his positions at University College London and as a Royal Society fellow.

In his column, Mr Johnson cited work By Professor Ad Vingerhoets of Tilburg University suggesting that women cry more than men. "[It] is a fact that – on the whole – men and women express emotion differently ...  it should not be an offence to say that," Mr Johnson wrote.

Such views could land Mr Johnson in hot water, according to a Labour MP. Chi Onwurah, the member for Newcastle Central, reckons that because Mayor Boris is an employer, he could be breaking sex discrimination laws if he is treating male and female employees differently.

Ms Onwurah, who worked for two decades in the male-dominated industry that is chartered electrical engineering, told the Guardian: "As the Mayor of London, he is effectively managing many women. If Boris is treating women differently from men by not giving them honest feedback on their performance because they might burst into tears, he is certainly failing in his duty of care and could be in breach of the sex discrimination act.

"I think women employees could rightly argue that they have not had proper feedback from Johnson because of his views on women and their propensity to weep in the workplace. It could have prevented women from being promoted.

Sir Tim Hunt said made sexist remarks about women in science at a science journalist conference in South Korea.

“I have found in my career in industry that constructive criticism can really improve opportunities at work. Johnson could be holding women back by not giving them honest feedback."

The furore centres around what Mr Johnson called a "light-hearted, off-the-cuff" speech by Sir Tim to women science journalists Seoul. In it, the professor, who won the Nobel Prize in 2001 for his work on cell division, said:  “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

During the speech - which Prof Hunt later said was meant to be "jocular and ironic" and which he apologised for - he described himself as "a chauvinist pig" and called for separate men and women to work in separate science labs.

In an interview with the Observer over the weekend, the biochemist said that his career was "finished" and that he had been "hung out to dry" after the comments provoked a searing backlash, among those present and then on social media.

But Mr Johnson said that Sir Tim had simply "doing what he had done all his life – pointing out a natural phenomenon he had observed". And at an event in London yesterday, he said that Sir Tim had fallen victim to "the ferocious stinging bees of the Twittersphere".

Should the Mayor of London be overwhelmed by sex discrimination claims in his remaining time at City Hall, he can't claim he wasn't warned.