Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Connolly on Victimless Harassment - UK Style

Connolly Michael 1Friend of the blog, Michael Connolly (University of Surrey (UK)), having reading Charlie's post from this past Monday on Battaglia v. UPS on "victimless harassment," brings to our attention a similar case from England.

Here's Michael's summary of that case:

Reading the note on Battaglia v. UPS reminded me of a case held here in England some years’ ago. The issue in English v Sanderson [2008] EWCA 1421 was whether someone could be liable for harassment ‘on the grounds of’ sexual orientation, under the UK’s Regulations outlawing harassment and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, when the treatment was unrelated to any particular person’s sexual orientation.

In this case, Mr. English was harassed by colleagues using sexual innuendo suggesting he was homosexual. This conduct was rooted, apparently, in two things: he lived in Brighton (a well known centre of the gay scene) and had attended boarding school. What made this case unusual is that Mr. English was heterosexual, and his tormentors neither assumed nor perceived Mr. English to be gay. Mr. English was aware throughout that his tormentors never mistook him for being homosexual. The Court of Appeal, by a 2-1 majority, found that the mockery amounted to unlawful harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Quite clearly, the phrase ‘on the ground of sexual orientation’ lends itself to cover the scenario where the harassment was unrelated to any person’s sexual orientation. As Sedley LJ observed, the distance between perceived harassment (unlawful) and harassing a man as if he were gay when he is not ‘is barely perceptible’ ([38]). However, policy considerations were prevalent in the speeches. The underlying policy consideration here is to protect homosexual (or bisexual) workers from being ‘outed’ by a systematic campaign of abuse. In such a pernicious scenario, the worker would have to suffer the abuse in silence unless or until he ‘came out’. As such, this decision helps preserve the dignity of workers that discrimination law is supposed to enshrine.

Very interesting indeed, Michael, in light of Battaglia case (and because this case concerns a Mr. English from England!). Thanks for brining a comparative gloss to this timely topic!


Commentary, Employment Discrimination, International & Comparative L.E.L. | Permalink

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