The much publicised sacking of Sky Sports presenter Andy Gray serves as a salutary reminder to employees and employers alike that attitudes change and sexist banter is simply not acceptable.
Mr Gray, who served as assistant to Ron Atkinson when he was the manager of Aston Villa Football Club, may now be wishing that he had learned from the mistakes of his former boss. Mr Atkinson resigned as an ITV football pundit in April 2004 when racist remarks he made about a black player following a broadcast were picked up by microphones that had not been switched off.
Mr Gray was given a warning by Sky following an ‘off-air’ exchange with fellow presenter Richard Keys that contained disparaging remarks about a female assistant referee and questioned women’s ability to understand the offside rule. When a further clip, which related to an off-air incident in December 2010 and showed Mr Gray making sexist remarks to a female colleague at Sky, appeared on YouTube, Mr Gray was sacked by the broadcaster on account of this “new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour”.
Mr Gray is reported to have consulted solicitors with a view to bringing legal action against Sky on account of his dismissal.
When an employee has been dismissed on the ground of misconduct, whether the dismissal was fair or unfair will depend on whether the employer acted reasonably, taking into account all the circumstances of the individual case.
The law protects employees from sexual harassment. The definition of harassment in the Equality Act 2010 means that employees can complain of behaviour they find offensive, even if it is not directed specifically at them and the complainant need not possess the relevant protected characteristic themselves. An employer who fails to act once they are aware of such behaviour runs the risk of having this used as evidence in any future discrimination claim. Employees should be made fully aware of the likely sanctions for breach of the employer’s anti-discrimination policy.
The Equality Act has made some changes to discrimination law. We can advise you on creating and enforcing an up-to-date anti-discrimination policy.
See our Guide to the Equality Act.