Employee Wins Tribunal Against Age Discrimination
The Law Of…Discrimination Based On Age
A 59 year old woman recently won at a Watford Employment Tribunal after being told she would be suited to a more 'traditional' office. The employee, Ms Gomes, took the remark to mean that she was too old to work in that particular office.
Deana Bates, Employment Law Solicitor, expands on the situation and its subsequent tribunal.
Straight To The Director's Desk
In this case, Ms Gomes was transferred to a new workplace as an administrative assistant in February of 2015. She had previously worked for another agent under the same franchise of Winkworth since 2009.
In February 2016 Ms Gomes had a meeting with the Letting Director where she was advised to be more careful with her work. The sudden focus on her performance and its standard upset Ms Gomes, who proceeded to go to her line manager to discuss the issue. The manager then went directly to Graham Gold, who was a different director to whom Ms Gomes saw in the initial meeting.
Gold proceeded to call a meeting with the other staff members, but avoided sharing any notes with Gomes. Gold reached the conclusion that Ms Gomes was too focused on an out-dated piece of software, choosing to focus on this over new ways of working which the company had implemented shortly after she joined them in 2015.
Gold continued to monitor Gomes’ performance, and eventually called her into a meeting. There were some errors in Ms Gomes’ work, for instance, letters sent to solicitors had been typed up incorrectly. Instead of dealing with this responsibly, he proceeded to make inappropriate remarks.
Gold stated "This marriage isn’t working", and explained a note would be placed on her staff performance record. Gold went on to state that Gomes would be "better suited to a traditional estate agency", something Gomes took as a direct comment on her age being a factor in her ability to perform at this particular office.
Gomes asked Gold to explain what he meant by the remark, but all he offered was that she should "sleep on it and decide what you want to do". Ms Gomes had intended to stay with the company until her retirement at 65, but now felt as though she was being forced out of the door.
Ms Gomes' Reaction And The Subsequent Tribunal
The aftermath of this mistreatment saw Ms Gomes taking stress-related leave from work, and lodging a grievance against Graham Gold. Ms Gomes was unsatisfied with the outcome of the grievance, which concluded that she should have been supported with additional training and Gold should not have acted so inappropriately. Gold himself was allowed to attend the grievance meeting, which is highly unusual as he was the subject of the complaint.
Unsurprisingly, Ms Gomes was not pleased by this outcome. She handed in her resignation and appealed to an Employment Tribunal. While in this situation Ms Gomes' grievance was unsuccessful based on the way her employer carried it out, it is still important to understand the grievance process as best as possible before filing or handling one.
At Tribunal, it was decided that Gold's comment about Gomes being "better suited to a traditional estate agency" was clearly aimed at her age. Considering that the word 'traditional' is defined in the Oxford dictionary as meaning 'long established', the tribunal decided that it was unlikely Gold would have used this comment on a younger member of staff.
The Tribunal decided that Ms Gomes' claims of age-related harassment leading to an unfair dismissal were truthful, and that whoever had been put in charge of the initial grievance meeting had compromised their impartiality by allowing Gold to be present, despite him being the subject of the grievance.
"This case ought to be a stark warning to employers of the dangers connected with their choice of language and the connotations that are connected to certain words. An innocent phrase in the wrong context or in ambiguous circumstances could land an employer in hot water defending an age discrimination claim. Even where a comment made by them does not directly mention the employee’s age."
As an employer, it is important to understand how to address difficult situations with your employees. Dealing with issues early and in the correct way could save you from any costly claims being brought against them.
If you are an employee and feel you are being discriminated against at work based on your age, then it's vital you contact a trained legal professional as soon as possible. At Simpson Millar, our Employment Law specialists offer a wide range of advice and services. Contact us today on our freephone number or through our online enquiry form.