Judge dismisses lawyer’s harassment claim warning against ‘a culture of hyper-sensitivity’
A lawyer, who claimed she was unfairly dismissed from her £100,000-a-year job after being sexually harassed, has lost her case after a judge warned against “encouraging a culture of hyper-sensitivity”.
Nirosha Sithirapathy, who worked as legal counsel at pharmaceutical research company PSI CRO UK, claimed that she was discriminated against because of her age and sex, according to The Times, when she rejected a role abroad for “personal reasons”.
Sithirapathy said that when she told her manager, Martin Schmidt, that she did not want to transfer into a new role based in Switzerland for personal reasons he responded with: “What personal reasons? You are not married, you don’t have children, and you do not have a boyfriend”.
In the same one-to-one meeting he also reportedly made comments about the “tolerance” of the Swiss offices towards a lesbian staff member.
Sithirapathy, who joined the science and engineering firm in 2014, argued that the remarks “had the effect of creating a humiliating environment for her” and made her uncomfortable.
Judge Emma Hawksworth said Schmidt’s comments were “unfortunate and awkward” but concluded that “they did not cross the line such as to amount to unlawful harassment.”
In delivering her decision Judge Hawksworth said: “we bear in mind the importance of not encouraging a culture of hyper-sensitivity or of imposing legal liability to every unfortunate phrase.”
The employment tribunal accepted Schmidt’s defence, that he would have made the same comments to a male employee too in a discussion about a possible relocation.
“Mr Schmidt in particular spoke very bluntly to the claimant,” but, the Judge continued: “Mr Schmidt was not commenting on Miss Sithirapathy’s relationship status or sexual orientation, he was seeking to convey his understanding about the claimant’s family commitments in the UK.
“We have therefore concluded that the claimant was not subjected to discrimination, harassment or victimisation. Those complaints fail and are dismissed.”
The tribunal also rejected claims of wrongful dismissal and breach of contract after concluding that Sithirapathy’s employment with the firm was terminated by mutual agreement.
Sithirapathy had agreed to take up the new role and relocate to Switzerland in 2017 but lost her job a month later during a company reorganisation.
Both Sithirapathy and PSI CRO UK have been contacted for comment.