Belfast Telegraph

Store failed to take the grievances of a transgender staff member seriously

By Katie Buchanan, employment solicitor

An employment tribunal has awarded a former Primark employee £47,433 after finding that she was subjected to harassment and direct discrimination related to her gender reassignment. This award comprised £25,000 injury to feelings as a result of the discrimination suffered by the claimant.

The claimant, Miss A de Souza E Souza, was a transgender woman. Around 16 years ago she began dressing as a woman on a permanent basis.

However, at the time of her employment her first name for the purposes of her passport and National Insurance was "Alexander", her birth name, although, on a day to day basis the claimant went by the name "Alexandra". The claimant worked at the Oxford Street West branch of Primark from September 2, 2016 until she submitted her resignation on February 25, 2017.

In her resignation letter she indicated that she was leaving her employment because "(she) cannot work in a place where (her) gender is an issue."

The employment tribunal found that the following acts constituted harassment related to gender reassignment:

1. A supervisor, Ms Chiamonwu, called the claimant 'Alexander/Alexandra' on September 29, 2016 and subsequently laughed at her;

2. Ms Chiamonwu continued to call the claimant 'Alexander' on September 30, 2016 and in the subsequent couple of days thereafter, even after the claimant had previously corrected her and shown her the name badge which clearly stated 'Alexandra';

3. On December 5 another of the claimant's colleagues sprayed a bottle of perfume near the claimant and said "I can smell urine, like a men's toilet". The claimant reported this incident to her supervisor and when she returned to her till, she heard the same colleague say to another colleague "It's a man's voice/deep voice".

4. On December 6 the claimant was in the staff female toilets with another colleague. Shortly after, someone knocked on the door and said "Ladies, this is an electrician. May I come in?" The claimant's colleague proceeded to hold the door open for the electrician and laughed and said "(y)ou can go in. There are no ladies in there".

5. On January 5, 2017 a member of staff told the claimant that she would pray for her as she had "evil inside her" and on the same date a male security guard said in front of customers that the claimant was "evil".

6. On the same day, the claimant overheard a supervisor in the store say to another supervisor that the claimant was "a joke" and had become the "joke of the shop". The respondent produced no evidence to rebut this allegation.

7. On February 10, 2017 the claimant was waiting to attend a meeting outside the respondent's HR offices. Whilst she was seated outside, two staff members (who had previously made derogatory comments regarding the claimant) walked past, looked at each other, then at the claimant, and started laughing.

The tribunal found that this conduct was directed at the claimant because of her transgender status.

The claimant raised grievances about her treatment, but alleged that the respondent had failed to properly investigate and consider her concerns.

The tribunal found that, even at a late stage, in the run up to the claimant's resignation, when the respondent knew their failure to deal with these matters was a major issue, they still did nothing to attempt to remedy the situation.

In its decision, the tribunal recorded that the respondent "…showed a complete lack of understanding from the beginning as to what was required…" and recommended that they adopt a written policy on how to deal with new or existing staff who are transgender, or wish to undergo gender reassignment, amend any materials used for equality training to include references to transgender discrimination, along with the other protected characteristics, and that the respondent add into the training manuals for management, the importance of consistent application of the grievance policy as well as the importance of providing a timely outcome to grievances with a right of appeal.

Katie Buchanan is a solicitor specialising in employment law and can be contacted on 028 90 434015

Belfast Telegraph

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