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Calling a man ‘bald’ is sexual harassment, employment tribunal rules

Calling a man ‘bald’ is sexual harassment, employment tribunal rules

Calling a man “bald” is sexual harassment, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Hair loss is much more prevalent among men than women so using it to describe someone is a form of discrimination, a judge has concluded. Commenting on a man’s baldness in the workplace is equivalent to remarking on the size of a woman’s breasts, the finding suggests.

The ruling – made by a panel of three men who in making their judgment bemoaned their own lack of hair – comes in a case between a veteran electrician and the manufacturing firm where he was employed.

Tony Finn – who is in line for compensation – had worked for the West Yorkshire-based British Bung Company for almost 24 years when he was fired in May last year. He took the company to the tribunal claiming, among other things, he had been the victim of sexual harassment after an incident with the factory supervisor, Jamie King.

Finn alleged that during a shopfloor row in July 2019, King had referred to him as a “bald cunt”. The tribunal heard Finn was less upset by the “Anglo-Saxon” language than the comment on his appearance.

The allegation resulted in the panel – led by Judge Jonathan Brain – deliberating on whether remarking on his baldness was simply insulting or actually harassment.

“We have little doubt that being referred to in this pejorative manner was unwanted conduct as far as [Finn] was concerned,” the tribunal found. “This is strong language. Although, as we find, industrial language was commonplace on this West Yorkshire factory floor, in our judgment Mr King crossed the line by making remarks personal to the claimant about his appearance.”

Finn had not complained about the use of “industrial language” but was particularly affronted at being called bald, the panel said.

“It is difficult to conclude other than that Mr King uttered those words with the purpose of violating [Finn’s] dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him,” the judgment found. “Of his own admission, Mr King’s intention was to threaten [Finn] and to insult him. In our judgment, there is a connection between the word ‘bald’ on the one hand and the protected characteristic of sex on the other.

“[The company’s lawyer] was right to submit that women as well as men may be bald. However, as all three members of the tribunal will vouchsafe, baldness is much more prevalent in men than women.

“We find it to be inherently related to sex.”

As part of its ruling, the panel raised a previous tribunal case where a man was found to have sexually harassed a woman by remarking on the size of her breasts to rebut the firm’s point. “It is much more likely that a person on the receiving end of a comment such as that which was made in [that] case would be female,” the tribunal said.

“So too, it is much more likely that a person on the receiving end of a remark such as that made by Mr King would be male. Mr King made the remark with a view to hurting the claimant by commenting on his appearance which is often found amongst men.

“The tribunal therefore determines that by referring to the claimant as a ‘bald cunt’ … Mr King’s conduct was unwanted, it was a violation of the claimant’s dignity, it created an intimidating environment for him, it was done for that purpose, and it related to the claimant’s sex.”

Finn’s compensation will be determined at a later date.

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