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Salesperson who was given nickname ‘Gramps’ at work awarded £63k for age discrimination

Posted by TonyBrownEmploymentSolicitor on March 22, 2016

The use of an age-specific nickname for an employee can amount to harassment on grounds of age if it has the effect of creating a degrading, humiliating or offensive work environment for that employee, even if there is no intention to do that.

The use of an age-specific nickname for an employee can amount to harassment on grounds of age if it has the effect of creating a degrading, humiliating or offensive work environment for that employee, even if there is no intention to do that.

In the next case, an employment tribunal awarded more than £63000 compensation for age discrimination to a 60 years old salesperson who was nicknamed 'Gramps' by his younger colleagues and later dismissed after customer complaints that he was 'old fashioned' and 'long in the tooth'. 

 In that case, the Claimant was a long-serving employee until his dismissal at the age of 60. At some point, the head of sales (who was considerably younger than the Claimant) began using the nickname 'Gramps' for the Claimant in emails, and verbally while others were present.

The Claimant did not complain about the nickname, which was used for a number of years. Indeed, there was evidence that the Claimant had referred to himself as 'Gramps' in an email.

The Claimant’s dismissal came after suggestions that customers regarded him as 'old fashioned' or 'long in the tooth' and that his 'traditional' approach was out of step with their business needs.

The Claimant claimed age discrimination in the employment tribunal.

To amount to harassment, the head of sales’ nickname for the Claimant had to have the purpose or effect of violating the Claimant’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the Claimant. Where, as in this case, a claimant claimed that use of the nickname had this effect (although this was not the colleague’s purpose), the tribunal had to consider whether it was reasonable for the conduct to have that effect.  

Upholding the age discrimination claim, the employment tribunal accepted that the  nickname ‘Gramps’ was not meant to be offensive, but that did not mean that it was not discriminatory. The tribunal accepted that the Claimant found it disrespectful and hurtful. The fact that it was banter did not really assist the employer.

The tribunal also decided that phrases such as 'old fashioned' and 'long in the tooth' were references to the Claimant’s age and took into account that younger colleagues’ references to the Claimant as 'Gramps' suggested that ageist attitudes were tolerated in the workplace.

Comment

The employment tribunal decision in this case is the latest in a growing case law in which nicknames have amounted to harassment or have been accepted as evidence in other types of discrimination claims. Earlier cases include: 

- the nickname ‘Yoda’ was accepted as evidence of age bias against an older employee in a redundancy selection claim

- the nickname ‘Borat’ for a Polish employee amounted to race discrimination

- a case in which a French born claimant complained about use of the nickname ‘Inspector Clouseau’

- the nickname ‘Ironsides’ for a wheelchair using employee amounted to disability harassment

- a claim for unfair dismissal brought by an employee who claimed she was mocked about her dyslexia and being called ‘Thicky Vicky’ 

Disclaimer

This article is not a substitute for legal advice. The information may be incorrect or out of date and does not constitute a definitive or complete statement of the law. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice in any specific situation. Readers should obtain legal advice and not rely on the information in this article.