A UK judge has ruled that calling women “birds” is “plainly sexist,” and even using the term jokingly is “foolish” in a landmark discrimination case.
The ruling came following a tribunal brought by a Barclays investment banker after her boss repeatedly called women “birds.”
Anna Anca Lacatus said her boss, James Kinghorn, continued to refer to her as a “bird” despite requesting that he stop and warning that the term was making her feel uncomfortable, the hearing at the East London Employment Tribunals Service was told.
Mr Kinghorn still defended his use of the word as “lighthearted”, but judge John Crosfill ruled against him stating it was “foolish” to think anyone would find the remark funny.
Ms Lacatus is set to receive compensation following the ruling.
Ms Lacatus worked as a £46,000-a-year analyst with Barclays, her first job in investment banking since completing an investments and finance master's degree at Queen Mary University in London.
In a statement, she said her boss Mr Kinghorn referred to a female employee as a “bird” in February 2018.
Ms Lacatus said that she immediately confronted him about his use of the phrase, but he then continued to say it in an effort to make her feel uncomfortable. Mr Kinghorn told her she should not report him to HR over his use of the term, she said.
At the tribunal, Mr Kinghorn accepted that his language was inappropriate.
Judge John Crosfill said: “The use of the phrase ‘bird’ was a misplaced use of irony which inadvertently caused offence.
“We accept that when this was pointed out to [Mr Kinghorn], he ultimately got the message and stopped trying to be funny. We find that it is likely that it took some time before Ms Lacatus was sufficiently blunt that the message hit home.
“The language is plainly sexist (whether misplaced irony or not).”
The tribunal also ruled that Ms Lacatus would have been reluctant to speak about her boss’s language at the time out of fear of the damage it could do to her career.
Ms Lacatus also won her claim that Barclays had failed to accommodate her request for adjusted working hours because of her endometriosis and anxiety.
Ms Lacatus was often expected to work past 7pm, averaging between 40 and 48 hours a week.
Judge Crosfill said: “As her illness progressed, Ms Lacatus became progressively more exhausted.
“We accept that working as hard as the team did was tough on everybody but doing so whilst coping with endometriosis and stress and anxiety would make it much harder.”
“Being required to work for the long hours placed [Ms Lacatus] at a substantial disadvantage compared to others without a disability.”
The judge said the failure to adjust her hours was a “serious act of discrimination.”
Ms Lacatus was signed off in January 2019 and was later made redundant by the bank. A hearing to decide compensation will take place at a later date.
Additional reporting by Solent News