Words: Alastair James; pictures: Daniel Robson / provided
A gay man has been awarded more than £36,000 by his former employer, Northern Gas and Power, following an employment tribunal over constructive dismissal and harassment relating to his sexual orientation.
Daniel Robson, 28, worked for the company between January and June 2019 and says he heard homophobic slurs every day. One text message sent after Daniel left the business disturbingly said: “gays and blacks and ethnics” leaving the office was a “good cleanse”.
The tribunal also went in Daniel’s favour regarding a lack of adjustments to his job due to his dyslexia. He’s been awarded £36,707 in total.
Northern Gas and Power also has to pay £18,353.501 as a financial penalty to the Secretary of State pursuant to section 12A Employment Tribunals Act 1996.
“I’ve been under a dark cloud for a long time"
The tribunal’s judgement makes for uncomfortable reading: Not only was Daniel regularly subjected to offensive slurs such as “f****t” and “p**f”, but his sexuality was openly discussed by other employees, with former colleagues also making jokes at the expense of Daniel and other gay colleagues.
In one incident a colleague raised the idea of starting a “straight pride” in retaliation of gay pride events, and in another, a colleague exclaimed about there being a “b****r” in the office.
Speaking to Attitude, Daniel says it feels like a huge weight has been lifted with the verdict.
“I’ve been under a dark cloud for a long time and there have been times where the correspondence that kept coming from NGP was really affecting my mental health because of their choice of language" he says.
“They regularly tried to persuade me to give up or take insultingly low offers to be silent and drop the case. To be on the other side and have won on all four counts and see them receive a fine is an extremely positive result.”
On how challenging the process of getting a verdict in the case has been, Daniel says he’s had to go to counselling for help.
"It has been incredibly difficult for me and had I not had such a supportive family I would not have been able to see it through to the end. My parents had to remortgage their home to raise some money to see me through the proceedings.”
He tells Attitude that once he’d resigned, a senior colleague responded to the news with, “Good, that’s both gays, all blacks and ethnics gone. Good cleanse if you ask me”. He says it hit him hard.
“I had reached [a] breaking point following six months of comments about my sexuality, management who harassed me by failing to make proper adjustments for my dyslexia in addition to numerous incidents of harassment aimed toward my colleagues and their families, it was an extremely toxic environment as the judgement accurately describes.”
"I feel like nothing there will change"
In a response to the judgement, Northern Gas and Power said Daniel’s harassment had been an “isolated case”. Daniel disputes this.
“There was at least three or four people who were targeted by the discriminatory “banter”. Since the judgement made its way into national press, I've had a number of people who have worked for the company coming forward to me regarding their experiences including people from the Leeds office and the company’s head office.”
“All I’ve heard from the company is the public statement they made in which they completely disregard the findings, insist there’s no issue with the company’s culture, that they are three times more inclusive than most other companies, and call me a thief which was a narrative they tried to invent in order to defend the claim on the basis they would have sacked me.
The judgement mentions concerns about tactics used by Northern Gas and Power including that “Key facts were omitted or misrepresented to unfairly accuse the claimant of dishonesty/theft in order to bolster the case presented.”
Daniel is hopeful he can now move on but adds: “Unfortunately, I still don't think Northern Gas and Power see any problem in their culture or ethos and regrettably I feel like nothing there will change, their public statement and lack of apology suggests as much.”
In a statement, provided to Attitude, Northern Gas and Power say they are "a very proud, openly diverse organisation with a zero-tolerance approach to any forms of harassment or discrimination."
The company makes mention that their last voluntary survey of staff showed that 10% of the workforce identified as LGBT, compared to the 2.7% national average.
They go on to say that "neither our HR department nor the Senior Management team were made aware of the allegations at the time", and that "a full investigation would have taken place" had they been reported. They also say the company was unaware of much of the offensive behaviour that Daniel experienced as it happened within a personal, employee WhatsApp group.
"Northern Gas and Power had no way of knowing the existence and discriminatory contents of this chat group, some of which was only revealed to us on the day of the tribunal. This in no way excuses what happened. Our view is that this sort of behaviour should not take place anywhere, ever. Had we known about it, we would have made a stand to protect the victim’s and everyone else’s rights.
"The comments made by individual employees back in 2019 were entirely the views of those individuals and do not represent the views of NGP. We can also confirm that all the individuals involved in the incident are no longer employed by NGP. NGP accept that lessons need to be learnt in relation to this regrettable situation.
"We will use the learning from the tribunal to improve our existing policies and procedures to ensure everyone within the organisation is aware of their individual responsibilities towards creating an inclusive culture with a zero-tolerance approach to victimisation and discrimination."
The statement adds: "Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to offer sincere apologies to all who have been impacted by this situation including the individual who regrettably experienced those behaviours."
The full statement can be read here.
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