A gay British worker has spoken out after his boss asked ‘Do you have AIDS?’ when he was ill.
Jack Howell, 36, said he was ‘mortified’ after boss Peter Chambers made the comment when he had come out of a toilet looking pale and sweating.
At a tribunal hearing yesterday (28 January), Chambers admitted it was ‘inappropriate’ but said it was part of ‘office banter’.
He also admitted to calling Howell a ‘cocksucker’ in a phone call to his wife.
The company has denied discriminating against Howell and has counter-claimed that he had made disparaging comments about Chambers’ wife in a Facebook post.
The tribunal heard Howell had been working as the skip office manager at the recycling and waste management firm for almost three years.
In April last year, Howell fell ill and was diagnosed with Raynaud’s Phenomenon – a condition affecting blood supply to parts of the body.
He said: ‘Although I had returned to work after my doctor’s appointment, I was still not feeling well and, as I was walking down the stairs, Mr Chambers said to me: "What’s up with you?"
‘When I mentioned that I was feeling really rough, he commented: "What’s wrong with you, is it AIDS?”’
Howell added: ‘I was horrified. I’m a gay man and the stereotype is still there – that it is a gay illness.’
He did not raise a formal grievance at the time because his line manager was Chambers’ wife Emma, finance director at the Surrey-based firm.
On 14 May, during a meeting with his boss, Howell was asked to defend his drop in sales.
It was alleged he had called his line manager a ‘retard’ in a Facebook post, which was seen by her husband.
But he denied the comment, which did not mention anyone by name, was about anyone at work. In the tribunal, he said it was about an argument with his drug-addicted brother.
Two weeks later, Howell was told he would be made redundant.
Following a consultation on 3 June, Howell accessed company phone logs and heard Chambers call him ‘the cocksucker’.
Howell left the office the same day. He was signed off work, prescribed anti-depressants and formally handed in his resignation on 28 June.
‘Mr and Mrs Chambers had decided they wanted me to leave either because of my sexual orientation or my alleged misconduct,’ he claimed.
‘I could not stay in view of the homophobic comments made by Mr Chambers and the attempt to ease me out of the company on the false claim of redundancy.’
Chambers has denied he was homophobic, dismissed Howell’s claims about engineering the redundancy scheme to force him out of a job, and said he was ‘emotionally distressed’ when he was on the phone to his wife.
On using the gay slur, he said: ‘I regret my use of this phrase but I did not use it because of any prejudice against homosexuals, but rather as a general term of abuse.
‘This comment does not accurately reflect how I really viewed Jack or acted towards him.’
The tribunal continues.