Bisexual prison guard called ‘poof’ and ‘gay’ by fellow officers wins lawsuit

Sofia Lotto Persio February 15, 2019
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A utility belt and keychain is seen on a prison guard.

A bisexual prison guard suffered months of harassment at the hands of his colleagues. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

A bisexual prison guard who endured harassment and abuse about his sexuality for months has won a lawsuit against the Secretary of State for Justice.

Employment judge Michael Ord ruled that plaintiff Ben Plaistow—identified in Court News UK—was the victim of direct discrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal in a judgement written on February 5.

Plaistow, 40, had more than a decade experience working in detention facilities before being transferred to the Woodhill high security prison in September 2014—a transfer he had requested to advance his career.

But soon after his arrival, the prison guard was the target of verbal harassment.

During the trial, which was heard in Cambridge, the court heard about several episodes of verbal and physical abuse Plaistow was subjected to, including regularly being called “poof” and “gay,” as well as “vermin” on at least one occasion.

A prison guard walks through a cell area at HMP Berwyn on March 15, 2017.
The harassment began soon after the bisexual prison guard started his job. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

In one incident, his work bag was marked with the colour pink and, on another occasion, it was smeared with pink fairy cake. Plaistow also had water thrown in the face and, at one point, a guard who did not testify and was thus only identified in court documents as PO H, slapped him across the face but faced no repercussion.

Plaistow’s appearance was often remarked upon, either because of his haircut or because of the way his uniform appeared more polished than his colleagues’.

In their court appearances, the prison officers said they regarded the remarks as “good natured banter” and denied that Plaistow was ever called slurs such as “gay” or “poof.”

Bisexual prison guard wins discrimination case

The court, however, sided with Plaistow, accepting his evidence as “in an unanimous view, however, the conduct was unwanted and clearly related to the claimant’s sexuality which is a protected characteristic.”

Judge Ord noted that PO H and another colleague, identified as PO Robert Puttock in court documents, were “the ringleaders of the atmosphere of harassment and abuse which the claimant faced.”

The two weren’t the only ones taunting Plaistow—other instances of abuse described included one officer threatening Plaistow to “put [him] on his ‘arse,'” another officer screaming at Plaistow, “grabbing his face, digging her fingernails into his face,” and his line manager, Custody Manager Victoria Laithwaite, grabbing his arm with force, causing bruising.

Laithwaite was also deemed to be the person who revealed Plaistow is bisexual, which also intensified the harassment he was already receiving.

The prison guard told the court she asked him if he was gay, a question he found “odd, but which he answered honestly.” Laithwaite denied that this discussion ever took place, but the court found her an “unreliable and evasive witness.”

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