In a landmark Court of Appeal ruling William Majrowski, an alleged victim of homophobic workplace harassment by his manager, was granted the right by the Law Lords to pursue a case of “vicarious harassment” against the employers of his manager.
Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead explained how Mr Majrowski’s boss, Sandra Freeman, allegedly “bullied and intimidated him” because he is homosexual and she is homophobic.
Mr Majrowski worked at Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Trust in London as a clinical auditor co-ordinator. He first tabled a formal complaint in April 1998 which was followed by an internal inquiry confirming the allegations. After the subsequent resignation of Mrs Freeman, Mr Majrowski pursued the case against the trust itself.
He explained his reasons for furthering his complaint: “For me the issue has been about the right to go to work and not be harassed.” He went on to say, “I felt i had to bring legal action against the Trust because they were responsible and accountable for Mrs Freeman’s actions, particularly as it appears they were aware of her conduct but did nothing to address the issue.”
A county court judge, however, threw out his request claiming that the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act was not intended to create another level of liability by enabling a case to be put against an employer.
The trust had argued that the employers were blameless because the legislation was intended to punish the perpetrators themselves for the anxiety they had caused and not the employers who are targeted just because they have the money.
The Court of Appeal’s judgement today has firmly upheld Majorowski’s request for a hearing. Lord Nicholls explained that the legislation is intended to provide protection against bullying at work, amongst other things. If one employee assaults another, then the employer is liable; the same is true in a case of harassment. The legislation should ensure the protection of employees in the workplace from all forms of workplace bullying be they due to sexual orientation, ethnicity or freckles.
After the decision Mr Majrowski stated: “Any other outcome would have absolved employers of responsibility for what goes on in the workplace.”
For his lawyer, Nick Hanning of Reynold Williams the case is a call to employers to make positive steps to eradicate the culture of bullying which is still prevalent in many organisations.”
Alistair Kelman of PinkLegal.co.uk said “This is a very sensible and reasonable interpretation of the law. An employer must provide a safe place of work for his employees. Bullying at work makes the workplace an unsafe place and an employer must stop this happening.
“Section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 created a new civil tort of harassment and lawyers and judges need some time to work out how this was to work out in practice. It is good to see the Court of Appeal putting this point of interpretation beyond doubt.”