Fired firefighter who claimed he called short gay coworker ‘half a man’ because of ‘his size’ rather than his sexuality wins £ 12,000 payout despite losing unfair dismissal claim
- Phillip Staines called 16-year-old gay firefighter colleague Jonny Metcalfe ‘Arthur’
- The comment was forwarded to North York’s Fire and Rescue – initiating an investigation
- Found that Staines was also making comments to female colleague and was turned down
- Staines told a tribunal that this is a ‘reference to height ‘rather than his sexuality
- Judge ruled against unfair dismissal but awarded him £ 12,163 for termination plus breach of contract
A firefighter fired after insulting a short gay colleague by calling him ‘half a man’ has been handed over £ 12,000 by an employment court.
Philip Staines nicknamed fellow firefighter Jonny Metcalfe ‘Arthur’ because of his size, but Mr Metcalfe saw it as a derogatory reference to his sexuality.
An employment court heard that when a colleague asked Mr Staines why he called him ‘half a man’, Mr Staines replied ‘well I can’t call him Stumpy or Dwarf’.
When concerned colleagues told his behavior to bosses of the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, Mr. Staines claimed it was “just plain banter.”
Philip Staines called fellow North York firefighter Jonny Metcalfe ‘Arthur’ for his size, but Mr Metcalfe saw it as a derogatory reference to his sexuality
He denied that it was in any way a derogatory homophobic reference to Mister Metcalfe’s sexuality, adding, ‘I call him Arthur, Arthur man, half a man … because of his size.
“I can’t call him Stumpy or anything else. It’s just chatter. We were just laughing and joking.
He came into the recreation room and I said “Hello Arthur”. It’s not demeaning. ‘
Mr. Staines added that after this exchange at the station in Grassington, North Yorks, he offered Mr. Metcalfe ‘a brew’.
However, the tribunal overheard Mr. Metcalfe tell the investigation that the conversation had made him “offended and emotionally upset” and that he believed it was demeaning because it indicated that he was gay.
The fire investigation concluded that Mr. Staines did not intend it to be homophobic, but “it is recognized that Mr. Metcalfe has reasonably interpreted the wording as having a homophobic connotation and that it caused an insult.”
As a result, a full disciplinary hearing was held in which Mr. Staines again claimed it was just ‘banter’ regarding its size and he didn’t mean it to be derogatory.
After hearing that Mr. Staines had also made demeaning remarks to a female colleague, Area Manager Jonathan Dyson decided to fire him on the spot for violating the agency’s code of conduct, bullying and harassment policies, and organizational values.
He noted that Mr. Staines had previously been warned against using inappropriate language and that his behavior “showed no self-improvement following his previous written warning.”
Nor “demonstrated understanding of dignity at work and inappropriate language.”
When Mr. Staines lost an appeal against his dismissal, he brought his claim for unfair dismissal and breach of contract against the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.
Judge Buckley ruled that it was “reasonable” for Mr. Metcalfe to view the comments as referring to his sexual orientation and feel insulted.
She said: ‘It seems clear to me that’ half a man ‘could be interpreted by a gay man as an insulting comment about their sexual orientation. I think [Mr Staines] I should have appreciated that too. ‘
She also ruled that Mr. Staines belittled an employee by making fun of a co-worker “you trained her well” when she answered the phone.
The Leeds Tribunal rejected his claim of unfair dismissal, but ruled that his conduct had not been so bad that he should have been fired without notice.
As a result, the tribunal awarded Mr Staines his notice period plus 10 percent for breach of contract plus his holiday pay, totaling £ 12,163.