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

By Matt Mathers
Getty Images

Calling a man “bald” as an insult 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, they suggested.

The ruling - made by a panel of three men who in making their judgement bemoaned their own lack of hair - comes in a case between a veteran electrician and his manufacturing firm employers.

Tony Finn - who is now 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 them to the tribunal claiming, among other things, that he had been the victim of sex harassment following an incident with factory supervisor Jamie King.

Mr Finn alleged that during a shop floor row that almost erupted in violence in July 2019, Mr King had referred to him as a 'bald c***'.

The tribunal heard that Mr 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 (Mr 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."

Mr 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 [Mr Finn's] dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him," the judgement found.

"Of his own admission, Mr King's intention was to threaten [Mr 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 c***'...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."

Describing the argument with Mr King - who is 30 years his junior - Mr Finn told the tribunal, held in Sheffield, South Yorkshire: "I was working on a machine that I had to cover awaiting specialist repair. The covers were taken off, and it was apparent that Jamie King had done this.

"When I spoke to him about it, he began to call me a stupid old bald c*** and threatened to 'deck me.'"

Mr Finn said he had been left 'fearful for my personal safety'.

The tribunal heard he then wrote a statement about the incident with his son Robert, who was a police officer, on official West Yorkshire Police paper.

When this was handed to his bosses at the firm - a family business that makes traditional wooden cask closures for the brewing industry - they at first believed that he had reported the incident as a crime.

Mr Finn told them that it was not his intention to make the statement appear like an official police document. However, the firm accused him of trying to intimidate them and fired him for misconduct.

As well as upholding his sex harassment claim, the tribunal ruled the company had dismissed him unfairly because instead of waiting to hear from police after they complained about his son's involvement - as they had promised - they sacked him two working days later.

Judge Brain said: "Mr Steer and Mr Taylor are not criminal lawyers. They are not police officers. In our judgment, to the educated but untrained eye, the statement has all the hallmarks of having been made to West Yorkshire Police in connection with the investigation of an alleged crime.

Mr Finn did win claims of unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, being subjected to detriments and sex harassment.

He lost an additional claim for age discrimination after the tribunal ruled that Mr King had not called him “old” but simply a “bald c**”.

Mr Finn's compensation will be determined at a later date. However, any pay out will be reduced after the tribunal ruled he had contributed to his dismissal through his conduct.

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