Bisexual prison officer described as 'vermin' was unfairly dismissed

A bisexual prison officer who was taunted by colleagues as ‘gay’, ‘poof’ and ‘vermin’ was victimised and unfairly dismissed.

That was the decision of the Employment Tribunal in a case involving 40-year-old Ben Plaistow and HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes.

Mr Plaistow began working at the prison in September 2014. Within a few weeks he was subjected to questions and taunts from other officers. One colleague asked if he was gay because of his hairstyle, and at his induction meeting, his line manager Victoria Laithwaite asked about his sexuality.

He said he thought the question was strange but answered honestly that he was bisexual.

Following that meeting, the taunts increased, and his prison bag was daubed with pink marker pen by colleagues and smeared with pink fairy cake. He asked Ms Laithwaite for a new bag, but she refused.

Over the coming months, the taunts escalated. He had water squirted at him and was threatened with being knocked over. On one occasion, Ms Laithwaite said he was complaining too much, and grabbed his arm, causing bruising.

He told the tribunal that the treatment made him feel like crying because “all my dignity had been taken away.”

In December 2015, he stepped in to prevent an altercation between two prisoners. He was suspended for using excessive force and then dismissed.

He brought a claim of unfair dismissal. The Employment Tribunal found in his favour, saying that he had been victimised because of his complaints about the way he was being treated.

Judge Michael Ord criticised the way the prison management dealt with the case including incorrect procedures and delays, and said he considered the evidence of Mr Plaistow’s colleagues, and the prison managers to be unreliable.

Speaking of Ms Laithwaite’s role he said: “We again prefer the claimant’s (Mr Plaistow) evidence to that of CM Laithwaite. We conclude that she was aware at all times that the claimant was being bullied and harassed by other staff who sought to disguise this conduct as ‘banter’, was aware at all times that the claimant was bisexual.”

“On the balance of probabilities,” she had “communicated this to other officers and permitted by acquiescence and engaged in acts of discrimination and harassment as alleged”.

“The claimant suffered a campaign of direct discrimination and harassment on the basis of his sexuality or perceived sexuality throughout his period of employment at Woodhill. He was subjected to detriment for having made protected disclosures and victimised having made protected acts. He was unfairly dismissed, and his dismissal was an act of victimisation.”

Compensation will be decided at a separate hearing.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.

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