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Land Registry wins "limp wrist" discrimination appeal

11 May 2010

The Land Registry has won the latest chapter of an employment dispute with a gay manager who claimed he was the target of a campaign to belittle him because of his sexuality.

Among the allegations made by Phil Grant were that his line manager made a “limp wrist” gesture at him while joking with colleagues and warned a single, female colleague: “Don’t go fluttering your eyelashes at him, he’s gay.”

An employment tribunal accepted six complaints of discrimination and five complaints of unlawful harassment.

However, the EAT ruled that the employment tribunal had failed to deal with the fact that, prior to his promotion and move to Coventry Land Registry, Grant had “come out” to staff in another office at Lytham.

Giving judgment on behalf of the EAT in Grant v Land Registry (UKEAT/0232/09/DA), Mr Justice Langstaff said Grant had been a team leader at Lytham, responsible for 17 staff.

“He did not ‘come out’ as gay for some time,” Langstaff J said. “Then he did. He chose to do so. There is no suggestion that it affected any aspect of his working relationships at Lytham.”

After his move to Coventry, Grant alleged that his line manager, Sharron Kay, asked him during a meal with colleagues: “How is your partner Chris, how is he?” – stressing the word “he”. The tribunal did not accept that she had stressed the word.

Grant also complained that had decided not to attend a meeting of the Land Registry’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender focus group, because he felt his attendance “had not been endorsed by his managers”.

Langstaff J said the Land Registry argued that the matters complained of were ordinary matters of management or were misinterpreted by an “overly sensitive” person.

“A major plank of its case was that the claimant had ‘come out’ in Lytham, and that any analysis of the legalities of what had taken place needed to recognise that fact.”

Mr Justice Langstaff concluded: “Without consideration of the implications of the claimant’s ‘coming out’ at Lytham we cannot say that the decision was plainly and unarguably right.

“The phrase ‘legitimately did not wish his sexuality to be revealed’ appears to presuppose that it had not been revealed to the relevant audience beforehand and the analysis might be different if that further fact were considered.”

Langstaff J held that even the “limp wrist” matter was a finding open to re-interpretation, as the tribunal recognised, to determine whether or not it was the sort of gesture his line manager often made, which had been misinterpreted.

The EAT ruled that the tribunal’s decision could not stand and remitted the case to a fresh tribunal.

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