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Lesbian teen wins pay-out from boss over sexual comments

Teen wins compensation from boss for abuse against her relationship but fails to secure unfair dismissal claim
Lesbian Rae Roberts sued her former boss who she says fired her unfairly after being offensive about her sexuality.
Photo by INS.

A gay teenage girl has won an employment tribunal case against her 6ft 3ins tall boss for making sexual comments about her and her girlfriend.

Rae Roberts, aged 19 years, took her employers and senior manager Jim Cullen to an employment tribunal alleging discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The panel ordered the check-cashing company Cash Zone Ltd and Cullen to pay openly-lesbian Roberts almost £3,000 (over $4,200 €3,200) compensation.

The tribunal panel ruled that on a legal technicality it did not have jurisdiction to decide on a further claim for unfair dismissal.

The teenager said Cullen made comments about her sexual orientation and her relationship with her partner which embarrassed her.

She also said her immediate manager, Abigail Peters, called her ‘a kid’ and ‘a stroppy teenager’ and left demeaning notes for her on a weekly basis.

Paul O’Callaghan, representing Roberts said they might appeal the unfair dismissal decision.

Roberts had told the panel that in September 2011 she and her partner, Jennifer Rowsell, aged 20 years, had gone to a party with other colleagues at the boss’ home.

She said: ‘In September 2011 Mr Cullen held a party at his home for all of the firm's employees.

‘I and my partner Jennifer Rowsell attended the party.

‘The next working day he said to me how disrespectful I was and how embarrassed he was of me because of how I and Jennifer Rowsell were “all over each other”.

‘I found his remark embarrassing, unfavorable and directed at my sexual orientation,’ she told the tribunal sitting in Reading, Berkshire, southern England.

Rowsell also rejected the allegation, saying: ‘I never really display any affection publicly. I would not display affection, especially with work people around.’

At another party, which the couple said they had only reluctantly attended, Roberts said she was dancing with other female colleagues when Cullen told her: ‘Don’t get excited about dancing with other women.’

Two days later, on 30 March last year, Abigail Peters spilled some gold-testing acid onto her trousers.

She pointed to the inside of her upper-thigh, showing it to Cullen. He then said: ‘Be careful. You may get Rae excited.’

Employment Judge Robin Lewis said on Friday (5 April) that the panel had accepted some but not all of the evidence given by the claimant.

Roberts had claimed the demeaning, abusive notes given to her by Peters were taken back by the company and then a record of them prepared for the tribunal was untrue, having been doctored, with expletives and other offensive terms watered down or removed.

However, the panel concluded the record was a true one of what the notes had been said.

Lewis said: ‘Anyone who has tried to falsify a document, at risk of the document being compared with the original, knows that there is a suicidal risk to take, and we do not believe that risk was taken by anyone involved in this case on behalf of the respondent.’

The tribunal also accepted evidence from both Cullen and Peters that they felt Ms Roberts was not competent in her job and that Peters had advised Cullen to dismiss her but that he had not.

He conceded in evidence that he had buried his head in the sand.

Roberts had worked at Cash Zone Ltd in Bracknell, Berkshire, before transferring to the nearby branch in Camberley, Surrey, on 18 July 2011.

Her role included everything from money transfers to gold testing and cleaning the office. She was sacked without warning on 16 April last year.

Her partner, who also used to work for Cash Zone Ltd, in Bracknell, resigned in protest at what had happened to Roberts.

In his evidence, Cullen conceded some of his behavior was wrong but added: ‘In this PC world today, as a manager, you are not allowed to say anything. You’ve got to talk like robots.’

He told the judge he became ‘pissed off’ with telling Roberts to improve her behavior.

He said: ‘In the end, I’m 100% guilty of burying my head in the sand – I broke the number one rule in business. I hated coming into the shop in the end.

‘I didn't do myself any favors – what I should have done is take my head out of the sand and dealt with it myself because Miss Peters’ approach was not working.

‘I didn’t address the issues and let my business suffer because of the incompetence of Rae.’

Roberts, of Brook Road, Camberley, was awarded £2,748 ($4,206 €3,229) by the tribunal.

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