A sales employee, who worked as a professional Santa Claus outside of his full-time job, sued his manager for calling him a “paedo” and “kiddy fiddler” after hearing about his festive side hustle.
Carl Graham, who worked at a Liverpool-based car dealership, was subject to persistent name calling when his manager, Jon Gill, found out about his part-time role as Father Christmas at grottos and shopping centres.
Gill would reportedly make jokes calling Graham a “sexual predator” because of his festive job.
This came to a head when Graham was sacked in August 2020 – almost three years after his employment began – when a fight with a colleague broke out as they referred to him as “the one that likes to play with kids”.
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Despite this, Graham – who attempted to sue the car dealership for £44,000 - lost the tribunal after it was ruled that this abuse did not count as sexual orientation discrimination, as being called a “paedophile” isn’t related to a person’s sexuality.
The judge dismissed Graham’s claim of sexual orientation harassment, saying he had misinterpreted what it meant.
“Calling someone a paedophile is not related to his or her sexual orientation”, the tribunal judge said. "Because a paedophile could be someone whose sexual orientation was towards persons of the same sex or persons of the opposite sex or persons of either sex.”
The tribunal also ruled that although Graham did face abuse from his manager regularly, it wasn’t “a daily occurrence" as he had claimed.
In line with this, the panel ruled that Graham was “prone to exaggeration” - the claimant reportedly said when referring to his treatment: “(This) is the most horrific abuse anyone has ever suffered in UK employment history.”
Gill claimed that “daily banter” where everyone gave “as good as they got” was a part of the “vile and abusive” culture of the car dealership.
A WhatsApp group set up by Gill, which Graham would contribute to, was used to voice these offensive comments. Messages showed that Graham posted offensive messages also, many of which were homophobic and about child abuse, the tribunal heard.
One employee at the dealership told the tribunal that Gill “would sit in his office and hurl abuse at the staff in the office passing it off as 'banter'.”
Gill was given a written warning following his behaviour.
Recent research indicates that 50% of employees believe their workplace tolerates discriminatory banter, with many employees feeling that nothing will be done if they report it.
Tina Chander, head of employment law at Wright Hassall, says: “HR teams across the UK must make their workplaces safer. Otherwise, they risk high levels of sickness absence, a stressed and anxious workforce, losing talent, gaining a bad reputation and even, in some cases, an employment tribunal, which can be costly in more than one way.
“Training is part of the solution. But organisations need to do more to cultivate a culture and have set processes that are widely understood if someone is experiencing bullying and/or harassment.”