Calling a female work colleague ‘love’ is demeaning, a tribunal has ruled.
Judges ruled that calling female colleagues ‘babes’ or sweetie is condescending. It could be considered as talking down to them like they are children.
Mike Hartley, a funeral home manager, was dismissed after being accused of making inappropriate comments to women at work.
Hartley claimed that he had been discriminated against sexually because he called his female colleagues’sweet, love’ and ’honey’ but also gave men pet names like’mate’ and?pal’.
However, a Manchester tribunal found that the comparison was inappropriate as the men were not affected by what he called them and women were by the names they were given.
Employment judge Pauline Feeney said: “Calling someone ‘mate’ or ‘lad’ is not a ‘pet’ name in our opinion. It is a nickname. They are not demeaning.
“However ‘chick’, ‘babes’, ‘bobs’, ‘honey’, ‘hun’ and ‘sweetie’ are all demeaning and infantilising ways of referring to women.”
Colleague Rachel Anderton complained Mr Hartley – client liaison and HR manager for Blackpool-based funeral director D Hollowell & Sons Limited – had made ‘insulting’ and ‘very inappropriate’ comments.
When he inquired about uniform size, Hartley asked her for her vital statistics’. He also called her various pet names like ‘honey, babe’, and ‘chick.
He would come into the office and say ‘honey. I’m home’. The panel also heard that he called her a ‘good boy’ and that she was ‘curvy’ in all the right spots.
He once called her ‘Rachieboobies’ – though later claimed it was a ‘Freudian slip’ and he had meant to say ‘Rachibobs’.
After she complained, he was removed.
During an investigatory interview, he apologized for his actions and stated that he was just trying to be ‘warm and welcoming’.
Another colleague described Mr Hartley as a ‘lad’s lad’ who ‘liked banter’ – which he himself agreed with.
He was fired for gross misconduct – a decision upheld at an appeal hearing which found he had a ‘lack of respect for younger women’.
Mr Hartley then took his claims of sex discrimination and unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal claiming he was a victim of #MeToo culture.
The panel found Hartley was unfairly dismissed because his conduct probe had not been properly conducted.
The panel ruled in favor of Hartley’s firing, rejected his claim for sexual discrimination and denied him compensation.
Judge Feeney stated that Mr Hartley’s comments were “totally unacceptable” and Miss Anderson’s behaviour was ‘plainly sexual harassment.
“We have no doubt that had a female made similar or more accurately equivalent comments to a male of the same nature, or to a female within a sexual context as was the case here, that they also would have been dismissed,” she added.
Controversy over the use of pet names – sometimes regional – emerged in 2006 when Newcastle City Council managers told staff to think carefully before calling women `pet’ or `hinny’ in case it was considered sexist.
In 2012, news came that bus drivers in Brighton were told not to call passengers ‘babe’, ‘love’ or ‘darling’.
Tony Thorne, then-editor of the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, argued such terms could simply be terms of endearment and part of a region’s linguistic heritage.
“It’s usually urban sophisticates under 40 who find them distasteful.
“It is the ‘language hygienists’ who choose to see them as discrimination.
“It’s considered folky. This is part of a national tradition and a brief momentary affection among strangers.
“I know people who don’t live in Britain any more and when they come back they say how much they like to hear terms of affection, such as the Essex `babes’.”
He acknowledged women had a right to complain if they did not like such terms being directed at them.
Kate Fox, a social anthropologist and author of Watching The English, said if offence was taken it was best dealt with immediately and with humour.
“If you don’t like being called ‘babe’ or “love”, I believe it’s best to use humor to convey your feelings. For example, she might say ‘thanks for the stud muffin ‘,”’.
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