Sexism row | Female boss loses tribunal case over 'laddish' office with Nerf gun wars & rubber chicken fights

Female boss loses tribunal case over 'laddish' office with Nerf gun wars & rubber chicken fights

An IT boss who complained of her company’s “laddish” culture - including Nerf gun wars and rubber chicken fights - has lost a sex discrimination case.

Sarah Longman had taken former employer HML Holdings to tribunal amid claims of a sexist environment where male staff ran amok, taking part in 'childlike and immature’ behaviour.

Longman was made redundant in 2020 after 13 years of service, and had claimed unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.

She tried to sue them for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal but lost after a female colleague said the behaviour was "not offensive to her as a female and simply amounted to minor workplace pranks."

"Boorish and offensive behaviour" was exclusionary to women, tribunal hears

An employment judge heard how Longman had approached a manager in 2018 for support on how to manage 'difficult' team members who were "childlike and immature".

She had also raised concerns of a "very laddish culture" in the office, described in the tribunal documents as “boorish, offensive behaviour of a sexist nature to the exclusion of women.”

The tribunal heard male staff “'threw rubber chickens at each other”, “fired Nerf guns in the office” and “deliberately tapped on the wall between the two offices to annoy her.”

It was also claimed that several male colleagues had a private WhatsApp group in which they would make derogatory comments about Longman.

“She expressly stated that she was worried because all of the IT department males were included and none of the females were and that it could therefore be perceived as exclusionary,” the tribunal heard.

At the tribunal, Longman claimed “the allegations of laddish culture and undermining her are inextricably linked to her dismissal and so amounted to an ongoing state of affairs”.

However, a former colleague, Lesa Downes, gave contrary evidence to the tribunal, refuting claims of the existence of a ‘laddish’ culture, in addition to the claims that Longman was treated unfairly because of her gender. 

“The behaviour that [Longman] complains of was not derogatory and was not offensive to her as a female and simply amounted to minor workplace pranks”, Downes told the proceedings.

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Employment Judge Philip Tsamados dismissed Longman’s claims, ruling: “We did find it surprising that she as Head of Department did not take any action directly to deal with the matters that she alleges were taking place on what appeared to be almost a daily basis or raise the matter with her seniors.”

The judge added: “Whilst the company viewed her as not being a good manager and having poor people skills and whilst the team was dysfunctional, she did not control or address their behaviour or even characterise it as discriminatory at the time".

He concluded: "...there is insufficient evidence of her sex being the reason why she was dismissed.”

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