Lesbian asked to go back into closet by boss as company owner was ‘old school’ wins case of sex discrimination

A lesbian asked to go back into the closet by her boss as the company owner was ‘old school’ has won her case of sex discrimination.

Ashleigh McMahon, a quality control manager at a firm in Lancashire, was told to keep her sexuality secret as the company “did not have any other gay people working for it”.

She disclosed the fact she was gay to her immediate boss Darren Pilling in the first week of her new job.

But she told noone else for eight months at textiles manufacturing company Redwood TTM before she was made redundant.

She hauled the company, based in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, and her boss Mr Pilling before an employment tribunal for discriminating against her because she was gay.

Ms McMahon, who worked for the company from May 2017 to December 2017, found the request from Mr Pilling “odd and uncomfortable” but went along with it fearing it would negatively impact her new job.

At a tribunal in Liverpool, employment Judge Jim Wardle said: “According to the claimant, whose sexual orientation is towards persons of the same sex, she was asked during her first week of employment by Mr Pilling, having shared her sexual orientation with him, not to make it common knowledge that she was gay as the owner of the business, Brian Atherton, was old school and that the company did not have any other gay people working for it.

“She says that despite finding the request to be odd and uncomfortable she complied with it as she was mindful of the impact of it on her job having only just started.”

Mr Pilling denied the interaction ever took place claiming the first time he heard Ms McMahon was gay was when she appealed her redundancy.

But Judge Wardle dismissed his version of events.

He said: “In terms of these alleged discriminatory acts we believed that the claimant
did make Mr Pilling aware of her sexuality early into her employment, despite his protestations to the contrary and while not considering him to be homophobic in any way we also believed that he did suggest that she kept it under wraps as we felt that the reference to Mr Atherton being ‘old school’ had a ring of authenticity about it, which we found support for in the references to him wishing to see more visibility from the quality control team on the factory floor.

“In such circumstances we concluded that the claimant had been directly discriminated against on the grounds of her sexual orientation in respect of
this one matter as we considered that she had been less favourably treated by being asked not to disclose her sexuality by comparison with a hypothetical person not sharing her protected characteristic in the employment of the respondent.

“We could not conceive that such a person would have been asked this and that with such discriminatory treatment having lasting effect until the termination of her employment.

“Her remedy in respect of this one successful complaint, in the form of an
injury to feelings award, will be determined at a hearing to be arranged.”

Ms McMahon also claimed Redwood TTM dismissed her not for redundancy reasons but for whistle-blowing and that she was punished with longer working hours because of it.

These claims were dismissed.

By Grainne Cuffe

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