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Browne v John Edward Crowther Ltd

Employment Tribunal, case no. 1808186/2001, April 2002

Abuse and taunting in relation to a stammer were held to be unlawful discrimination. (Under the Equality Act 2010 this behaviour would be unlawful under different rules, as 'harassment'.)

The claimant had a severe stammer. The employer accepted that he was 'disabled' as defined in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The tribunal said the claimant had "a severe stammer, which he works very hard to control but which nevertheless clearly has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day to day activities."

Shortly after starting work in a dyehouse, the claimant (who was a very experienced dyehouse operative) began to point out to other operatives perceived inefficiencies in working practices, and to suggest alternative ways of working. The other operatives did not welcome this. A director tried to mediate, but there was still friction.

As the difference of opinion continued, the claimant began to experience taunting and abuse directed at his stammer. Two operatives in particular "subjected [the claimant] to cruel abuse on an almost daily basis". They often laughed and pulled faces at the claimant, who would sometimes contort his face trying to get his words out, and they made grunting sounds when he was in the vicinity. The managers were aware of this abuse. For example, the assistant manager heard an operative say, "why don't you do us all a favour and f**k off you stuttering twat." Also, the tribunal accepted that the behaviour of the operatives had been brought to the attention of the manager.

Matters came to a head about six months later. Meetings were held which failed to resolve any of the issues. An operative again said to the claimant, "do us all a favour and leave and f**k off, you stuttering bastard." The dyehouse manager was not willing to intervene on the claimant's behalf. The next day, the claimant told the manager he was going home until the dyehouse men were "sorted out". A few days later the claimant met with a director. There was a conflict of evidence as to what happened at the meeting, but the tribunal decided that the claimant had behaved in an aggressive and intimidatory manner, and this led to him being dismissed.

In the tribunal hearing, the claimant was represented by his wife ("very ably", said the tribunal).

Held by the Employment Tribunal: the abuse against the claimant was unlawful discrimination by the employer. The dismissal was not. In more detail:

Link to another summary of the decision: www.eortrial.co.uk/default.aspx?id=1087702

My comment

From October 2004 there is a specific claim for 'harassment'. The abuse in this case would clearly count as unlawful 'harassment' within the new rules.

An employer will often be liable for harassment by an employee's work colleagues, as well as managers. See on my 'Harassment' page: Harassment by colleagues - liability of the employer.


Employment: Harassment

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Last updated 16th December, 2010