Tribunal warns against culture of hyper-sensitivity in the workplace

The Employment Tribunal has warned against encouraging a ‘culture of hyper-sensitivity’ in the workplace.

The comments came as the tribunal rejected a female employee’s claim of age and sex discrimination after she was overlooked for promotion and her superiors made questionable comments to her.

Miss Sithirapathy worked as a legal counsel for pharmaceutical company PSI CRO UK. When an opening at the firm’s head office in Switzerland came up, she was encouraged to apply by the manager of UK operations Mr Schmidt.

Sithirapathy was told that because of her age, she would not be able to command a salary any higher than 120,000 Swiss francs per annum in Switzerland.

She declined the role due to personal reasons and Schmidt commented: “You are not married, you don’t have children and you do not have a boyfriend.”

During the discussion, Schmidt also told a story about the Swiss office’s tolerance of a lesbian staff member who worked there.

The following year, Sithirapathy hoped to gain promotion to the company’s senior legal team.

However, the company’s head of legal, Ms Ruf, judged that although she had done a good job, she was not ready for promotion and was not performing at the same level as the group’s three senior legal counsel.

This feedback was passed on to Sithirapathy, who brought claims to the Employment Tribunal of direct sex discrimination, sexual harassment or harassment related to sexual orientation by perception.

She said she had been left feeling “humiliated, upset and angry” by the comments made by Schmidt.

In reference to being overlooked for promotion, she claimed that “it sounded like I was delivering performance-wise, but that the limiting factors for title change were my age and duration of service”.

The tribunal ruled against Sithirapathy. It accepted the comments made to her were “unfortunate and awkward”.

However, the behaviour did not amount to harassment and the judge was keen to avoid encouraging a “culture of hyper-sensitivity or of imposing legal liability to every unfortunate phrase”.

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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