Calling a female work colleague ‘love’ is demeaning, a tribunal has ruled.
Using pet names like ‘sweetie’ or ‘babes’ is condescending and could be considered talking down to women as if they were children, a judge said.
The ruling came in the case of funeral home manager Mike Hartley who was fired after being accused of making inappropriate remarks to women at work.
He argued he had been sexually discriminated against because while he called female colleagues ‘sweet’, ‘love’, ‘chick’ and ‘honey’, he also gave men pet names such as ‘mate’ or ‘pal’.
But a tribunal in Manchester found it was inappropriate to compare the two as men were not undermined by the names he called them while women were by the monikers he chose for them.
Employment judge Pauline Feeney said: “Calling someone ‘mate’ or ‘lad’ is not a ‘pet’ name in our opinion. It is a nickname. They are not demeaning.
“However ‘chick’, ‘babes’, ‘bobs’, ‘honey’, ‘hun’ and ‘sweetie’ are all demeaning and infantilising ways of referring to women.”
Colleague Rachel Anderton complained Mr Hartley – client liaison and HR manager for Blackpool-based funeral director D Hollowell & Sons Limited – had made ‘insulting’ and ‘very inappropriate’ comments.
He asked for her ‘vital statistics’ when enquiring about uniform size and called her pet names such as ‘honey’, ‘babe’ and ‘chick’ numerous times.
The panel heard he would walk into the office saying ‘honey, I’m home’, called her ‘good girl’ and said she was ‘curvy in all the right places’.
He once called her ‘Rachieboobies’ – though later claimed it was a ‘Freudian slip’ and he had meant to say ‘Rachibobs’.
After she complained he was suspended.
During an investigatory meeting he apologised and said he was only trying to be ‘warm’ and ‘welcoming’.
Another colleague described Mr Hartley as a ‘lad’s lad’ who ‘liked banter’ – which he himself agreed with.
He was fired for gross misconduct – a decision upheld at an appeal hearing which found he had a ‘lack of respect for younger women’.
Mr Hartley then took his claims of sex discrimination and unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal claiming he was a victim of #MeToo culture.
The panel found he was unfairly dismissed as the probe into his behaviour had not been conducted properly.
But it ruled the company was right to fire him, rejected his sexual discrimination claim and refused to award him compensation.
Judge Feeney said Mr Hartley’s comments were ‘totally unacceptable’ and his behaviour towards Miss Anderson ‘plainly’ sexual harassment.
“We have no doubt that had a female made similar or more accurately equivalent comments to a male of the same nature, or to a female within a sexual context as was the case here, that they also would have been dismissed,” she added.
Controversy over the use of pet names – sometimes regional – emerged in 2006 when Newcastle City Council managers told staff to think carefully before calling women `pet’ or `hinny’ in case it was considered sexist.
In 2012, news came that bus drivers in Brighton were told not to call passengers ‘babe’, ‘love’ or ‘darling’.
Tony Thorne, then-editor of the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, argued such terms could simply be terms of endearment and part of a region’s linguistic heritage.
“It’s only urban sophisticates – usually under the age of 40 – who choose to find them distasteful,” he said then.
“It is the ‘language hygienists’ who choose to see them as discrimination.
“It’s folksy – part of a tradition in this country, a momentary affection between strangers.
“I know people who don’t live in Britain any more and when they come back they say how much they like to hear terms of affection, such as the Essex `babes’.”
He acknowledged women had a right to complain if they did not like such terms being directed at them.
Kate Fox, a social anthropologist and author of Watching The English, said if offence was taken it was best dealt with immediately and with humour.
“I think the best way to deal with being called ‘love’ or ‘babe’ if you didn’t like it would be to say something humorous to get the message across – something like ‘thanks stud muffin’,” she said at the time.
Get all the biggest Lifestyle news straight to your inbox. Sign up for the free Daily Star Hot Topics newsletter