A Tesco worker who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has won a sex discrimination claim after he was trapped in a room by his female boss.
Mr King, who is 6ft tall, said his line manager Ms Francis had “falsely imprisoned” him at work. He then said his complaint was ridiculed by other managers, who said he could not be frightened by a “little woman” – Ms Francis is 5ft 4in.
King told the employment tribunal that he had been “berated” by Francis in December 2018 because he was not being as flexible as she would like around his availability for shifts.
At the time he was studying to become an electrician and was balancing another job with his hours at Tesco in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
There had already been meetings to discuss his absence, where King had discussed a change in medication for his PTSD. The new medication was giving him side effects and making him “angry and bitter” by his own admission.
Then in December 2018, Francis, who was five months’ pregnant at the time, took him into a staff room to discuss his shifts, but King felt uncomfortable and went to open the door to leave.
He told the tribunal that Francis put “her foot against the door” and “physically prevented” him from leaving the room. CCTV footage then showed him squeezing himself out of the door.
King had told managers at Tesco about his PTSD, which had been triggered by an incident when he worked for the Prison Service and was held hostage.
He was then signed off work in February 2019 after a relapse of his PTSD left him unable to leave the house without crying.
He had provided Tesco with sick notes during this time but was dismissed for repeatedly failing to show up for work and not attending a disciplinary meeting. However, Tesco said it had never received his sick notes.
Francis told the tribunal that she was managing 18 or 19 people at the time and had become “forgetful” due to pregnancy-related ill health, which caused her to forget the difficulties King suffered due to his PTSD.
Employment Judge Judith George said in her judgment: “Ms Francis did not think Mr King would be intimidated by her or would take her actions in the room seriously because he was a 6ft man and she a 5ft 4in woman.
“Her words cause us to [think] that her mindset was partly based upon his sex – upon him being a man and not simply upon them being of different sexes.”
The judge also ruled that Tesco had not reasonably investigated Francis’ own conduct, but did not find that the absence of an investigation amounted to sex related harassment. The tribunal did find that King’s dismissal had been direct sex discrimination, however.
Another hearing will be held to determine King’s compensation in due course.
Commenting on the case, Jane Fielding, head of employment at law firm Gowling WLG, said: “Although it remains the case that the vast majority of sex discrimination claims are brought by women, this case shows that the risks of making decisions based on stereotypical assumptions apply equally to male employees. It also suggests a lack of understanding of the impact of PTSD and the need to consider it properly in the decision-making process.”
Personnel Today August 2021