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'Good girl' amounts to harassment

View profile for Kate Johnson
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Calling an employee a "good girl" amounts to harassment.

In the case of Fricker -v Gartner UK Limited the Employment Tribunal held that calling an employee (who is in their late 30s) a “good girl” and “fat” constituted unlawful harassment. 

It was Ms Frances Fricker’s contention that she had no other option but to resign her position of Accounts Executive at Gartner UK Limited as a direct result of being subjected to an ongoing course of unlawful sexual harassment at the hands of her line manager, Mr Giuseppe Ajroldi. Such conduct included comments on her appearance and unwanted sexual advances during a company trip. 

Ms Fricker raised a grievance regarding Mr Ajroldi’s comments and conduct towards her, however, the company failed to properly investigate the allegations on their misconceived justification that the behaviour was flirtatious in nature and was reciprocated by Ms Fricker. 

Ms Fricker’s claims were heard over the course of nine days and rather surprisingly the company decided not to call (or offer any explanation as to why they elected not to call) key witness evidence from the main protagonist, Mr Ajroldi. Instead, the company disputed any discrimination occurred but contended that if it did, then it was not significant because Ms Fricker brought this on herself “in the circumstances of her own behaviour”. Rather unsurprisingly, the Tribunal did not accept the company’s defence and preferred the evidence of Ms Fricker. 

Employment Judge Tobin commented that referring to a woman in her late-30s as a school-age girl is demeaning and therefore amounted to harassment. As such, Mr Fricker’s claims of sexual harassment and constructive unfair dismissal were upheld and a remedy hearing is to be listed shortly to consider compensation. 

This case is another stark reminder to employers to recognise that language evolves over time and words or phrases that might once have seemed harmless are now regarded as racial, homophobic and sexist slurs and are therefore inappropriate in the workplace. Employers are advised to carry out a full and proper investigation into all allegations of harassment, irrespective of any personal views. What may not be offensive to you, can be offensive to another, and as an employer you owe a duty of care to each employee. 

To mitigate against claims of harassment, it is certainly advisable to implement updated, meaningful and frequent Equality and Diversity training. This is a good starting point for employers to roll out to their employees, to demonstrate that reasonable steps were taken in advance to limit harassment claims in the workplace. 

For information on dealing with harassment ion the workplace, contact Kate Johnson on 01827 317063 or kjohnson@pickerings-solicitors.com