Gay phone shop worker awarded £30k compensation over sexual harassment

The woman was repeatedly asked 'how lesbians had sex' while working at the Vodafone store in Cumbernauld.

Gay Scottish Vodafone shop worker awarded £30,000 compensation over sexual harassment iStock

A gay former phone shop worker has been awarded more than £30,000 in compensation after her boss asked her on more than one occasion “how lesbians have sex”.

The unidentified former employee was asked “what a fag hag was” and told she “looked like a normal lassie” in a series of conversations with managers at the franchised Vodafone outlet in Cumbernauld’s Antonine Shopping Centre.

The woman, known only as Ms C, took legal action on sex and sexual orientation discrimination and harassment after leaving over stress caused by the job between October 2021 and January 2022.

An employment tribunal in Glasgow heard how the former employee was barracked by invasive questions and comments on her personal life by managers Muhammed Bilal Shahid, known as Billy, and Matthew Graham.

She also accused Michael McDade, who owned franchise operator Thistle Communications, of failing to take any action to “reprimand or stamp out” inappropriate behaviour.

The tribunal upheld her claims, awarding her £25,000 for injury to feelings, £1,100 for financial loss and £2,600 for Thistle Communications’ failure to adhere to the workplace code of practice.

A spokesperson for Vodafone apologised to the employee for the incidents, adding operation of the store had been taken on by a different franchisee.

In her complaint, Ms C said she declined to answer when Mr Shahid asked “How do lesbians have sex then? I’m intrigued” before a customer entered the store in November 2021.

When the customer left, Mr Shahid asked again but Ms C refused to answer.

On another occasion, Mr Graham told her that “People in the community are hurt over the past” in reference to her sexual orientation.

She said Mr McDade then followed her into a staff break room and told her: “If any of us ever say anything inappropriate just tell us to shut up”.

The tribunal also heard Graham said “Love who you want to love but when it comes to affecting my child, I don’t think LGBT should be taught in schools,” adding that Ms C was “not financially driven” because she did not have children.

Ms C raised complaints about the incidents before being signed off sick after 15 weeks working at the store. She later resigned from the position.

She also contacted Mr McDade and Vodafone’s LGBT email address to report “homophobic comments” and other “inappropriate behaviours”.

She told the tribunal: “I don’t feel safe to return to an environment which humiliated me, alienated me and has made me need to seek counselling.

“I have never been humiliated like that, being asked to describe the inner workings of my sexual orientation to a grown man whilst he smiles at me when asking was so disturbing and I’ve never been so oversexualised in my personal life or working career.

“No other woman was asked that or subjected to the comments around their orientation, only me, because I am gay. I don’t think I will ever feel safe or comfortable enough now to disclose my sexuality to another employer.”

Ms C had initially asked for a compensation payment of £10,000 but Thistle Communications, which has since been liquidated, offered £2,500 and refused to negotiate further.

The employment tribunal agreed that being asked about her sex life was discrimination and she had been a harassed because of her gender and sexual orientation, but a claim of unfair dismissal was rejected.

A spokesperson for Vodafone said: “Vodafone condemns anti-LGBTQ+ views and believe they have no place in our workplace or society.

“We offer our sincere apologies to the employee in question, and can confirm the store is now run by a new partner.

“We are a Stonewall Top 100 Employer and are proud and supportive of our active and engaged LGBTQ+ employee network, and will soon be launching an app we’ve developed that helps to tackle LGBTQ+ hate crime.”

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