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A care worker claimed he was sexually discriminated against by his female boss who called him ’50 per cent of a man’ for driving an automatic car, an employment tribunal heard.
Michael Fuller said he was harassed, victimised and discriminated against because he was a man in a predominantly female workforce.
He alleged his boss, area manager Hazel Roberts, told him he was less of a man for driving an automatic instead of a manual and called him gay for using too much aftershave.
Care worker Michael Fuller said he was harassed, victimised and discriminated against because he was a man in a predominantly female workforce (picture posed by models)
Mr Fuller claimed he was described as ‘half a man’ as he drove an automatic car. Pictured here is a 2022 Chevrolet Camero SS with a 6.2-litre V-8 engine mated to a six-speed manual box
Despite being heterosexual, Mr Fuller also claimed he was a victim of sexual orientation discrimination by the ‘gay’ comment.
But an employment tribunal dismissed all of his claims, ruling they either did not happen or were not serious enough to be classed as discrimination.
It was decided that calling him half a man for not changing gear behind the wheel was simply ‘an ill-judged joke about automatic cars’ and did not ‘violate his dignity’.
The tribunal, held in Reading, Berkshire, heard Mr Fuller worked for care providers ACASA from August 2016 as a team leader at a supported housing site for older adults called Place Court in Aldershot, Hampshire.
In July 2018, Mr Fuller said his boss Mrs Roberts made a number of comments about him, including calling him gay. Mrs Roberts denied making these comments.
He said Mrs Roberts called him ’50 per cent of a man’ because he drove an automatic car.
The tribunal accepted Mrs Roberts had said this, but found it was ‘an ill-judged joke by Mrs Roberts about automatic cars… We find that this comment did not have the effect of violating [Mr Fuller’s] dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him’.
Mr Fuller claimed Mrs Roberts also called him ‘gay’ for using too much fragrance. The tribunal heard he kept sprays in the office to use after taking a cigarette break and accepted Mrs Roberts complained when he did this.
However, the tribunal did not agree that Mrs Roberts called Mr Fuller gay.
Employment judge Emma Hawksworth said: ‘We find that it was an extrapolation by [Mr Fuller] based on Mrs Roberts’ comments about fragrance.
‘He did not say that Mrs Roberts had called him gay in his formal or informal grievance. He first raised it in his grievance appeal appeal meeting in October 2019.
‘When asked at that meeting ‘Did [Mrs Roberts] say you are gay?,’ he replied, ‘She insinuated’.’
At the tribunal, Mr Fuller elaborated on this and claimed Mrs Roberts ‘said to me that I was gay because, in her opinion, I wore too much aftershave/perfume’.
He later claimed Mrs Roberts said ‘You smell like a poof’ or ‘You must be gay because you spray yourself.’
The judge ruled it was ‘most likely’ that Mr Fuller had ‘inferred from Mrs Roberts’ comments about his fragrance that she was referencing sexual orientation, but that she did not actually use the word gay or p**f’.
The tribunal heard Mr Fuller made a grievance against Mrs Roberts in April 2019, in which he complained about bullying, invasion of privacy, victimisation, breaking confidentiality, defamation of character, demeaning behaviour and harassment, insulting behaviour, malicious intent and discrimination.
He also complained that he had not had a pay rise when other carers had received one.
When he lost these claims, he appealed and again lost.
But at the tribunal, he raised complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination.
The judge found he had not made reference to being sexually discriminated against before.
She noted: ‘The words harassment and discrimination are used, but there is no reference to any protected characteristic.
‘[Mr Fuller] says ‘As a man, being bullied by a lady is horrible’ but this is not the same as saying that Mrs Roberts would have treated a female employee any differently. It did not amount to an allegation of direct sex discrimination.
‘[He] describes himself as a ‘vulnerable man’ and says ‘as a man I should not have to work in these conditions its untenable’. However, there is no reference to being treated differently than women, or treated less favourably because of his sex.
‘[Mr Fuller] said he felt singled out because he did not get a pay rise, but he did not say he was being singled out because [he was a man].
‘We have found that Mrs Roberts said the claimant was ’50 per cent of a man’ in about July 2018. This was unwanted conduct, and it expressly referenced him being a man.
‘Taking into account the context in which it was made, our finding [was] that it was said as a joke about automatic cars.
‘Most of the staff at Place Court were female. We considered whether [Mr Fuller] being a man in that setting impacted either consciously or subconsciously on the way Mrs Roberts treated him, particularly in the light of her comment ’50 per cent of a man’.
‘We have decided, on the basis of the evidence we heard, that it did not, and that Mrs Roberts would have treated a woman in [his] circumstances in the same way.’