There can really be no excuse for a modern employer not to have in place comprehensive anti-discrimination policies that are fully understood by all workers. In one case that illustrates the consequences of failing to comply with the law in this respect, a transgender sales assistant who was subjected to playground-style bullying whilst working for a major retailer has been awarded almost £50,000 in compensation (De Souza E Souza v Primark Stores Limited).
The worker had been dressing as a woman on a permanent basis for almost 15 years before the retailer employed her. Although her male birth name appeared on her passport and other documentation, she made it clear during her interview that she wished to be addressed by her preferred, female name. Both names were, however, entered on the retailer’s computer system and, despite her protests, one of her supervisors persistently called her by her birth name.
The woman had been in the job for about three months when her transgender status became widely known amongst her colleagues. A series of incidents followed, in one of which a co-worker commented on her deep voice and sprayed male perfume in her direction, causing her to cough. In another, when she was fixing her makeup in the women’s toilets, a colleague commented that there were ‘no ladies in there’. She had also overhead colleagues referring to her as ‘evil’ or ‘a joke’. She became so upset by her treatment that she ultimately resigned.
After lawyers launched proceedings on her behalf, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that she had been constructively dismissed after enduring harassment and direct discrimination due to her gender identity. Despite her complaints, including to the police, her employer had done nothing to assist her, merely telling her to calm down and that she was drawing attention to herself.
She had been bullied out of a job she loved and the injury to her feelings was severe. The discrimination had made her feel insecure about her gender identity with the result that she had been prescribed anti-depressants and was unable to work for a considerable period following her dismissal.
She was awarded total damages of £47,433, made up of £20,000 for lost earnings, £25,000 for injury to feelings and interest. The ET recommended that the retailer put in place a training regime and a written policy instructing its managers how to deal appropriately with new or existing staff who are transgender or who wish to undergo gender reassignment.