Firefighter sacked for calling gay colleague half a man given £12,000

Sacked firefighter who claimed he called a short, gay colleague ‘half a man’ because ‘of his size’ rather than his sexuality wins £12,000 payout despite losing unfair dismissal claim

  • Phillip Staines called gay fireman colleague of 16 years Jonny Metcalfe ‘Arthur’
  • Comment was flagged to North Yorks Fire and Rescue – starting an investigation 
  • Found that Staines also made comments to female colleague and was dismissed
  • Staines told a tribunal this was a ‘reference to height’ rather than his sexuality
  • Judge ruled against unfair dismissal but awarded him £12,163 for notice pay plus breach of contract  

A firefighter who was sacked after offending a short, gay colleague by calling him ‘half a man’ has been awarded more than £12,000 by an employment tribunal.

Philip Staines nicknamed fellow fireman Jonny Metcalfe ‘Arthur’ in reference to his size, but Mr Metcalfe took it to be a derogatory reference to his sexuality.

An employment tribunal heard that when a colleague asked Mr Staines why he called him ‘half a man’, Mr Staines replied ‘well, I can’t call him Stumpy or Dwarf’.

When concerned colleagues flagged his behaviour to bosses at North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, Mr Staines claimed it was ‘just banter’.

Philip Staines nicknamed fellow North Yorks firefighter Jonny Metcalfe ‘Arthur’ in reference to his size, but Mr Metcalfe took it to be a derogatory reference to his sexuality 

He denied that it was in any way a derogatory homophobic reference to Mr Metcalfe’s sexuality, adding: ‘I call him Arthur, Arthur man, half a man… because of his size.

‘I can’t call him Stumpy or anything else. It’s just banter. We were just laughing and joking.

‘He came into the recreation room and I said “Hi Arthur”. It’s not degrading.’

Mr Staines added that following this exchange at the station in Grassington, North Yorks, he then offered Mr Metcalfe ‘a brew’.

However, the tribunal heard Mr Metcalfe told the investigation that the conversation had left him ‘offended and emotionally upset’ and he believed it was degrading as it referred to him being gay.

The fire service investigation concluded that Mr Staines had not intended it to be homophobic but ‘it is recognised that Mr Metcalfe has reasonably interpreted the wording to have a homophobic connotation and it has caused offence’.

As a result, a full disciplinary hearing was held at which Mr Staines again claimed it was simply ‘banter’ relating to his size and he didn’t mean it to be derogatory.

After hearing Mr Staines had also made degrading comments to a female colleague, Area Manager Jonathan Dyson decided to summarily dismiss him on the basis he had breached the service’s Code of Conduct, Bullying and Harassment policy and organisational values.

He noted that Mr Staines had previously been warned for using inappropriate language and his conduct ‘did not demonstrate self-improvement after his previous written warning’.

Nor did it ‘demonstrate understanding in relation to dignity at work and inappropriate use of language’.

When Mr Staines lost an appeal against his dismissal he launched his claim for unfair dismissal and breach of contract against North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Employment Judge Buckley ruled that it was ‘reasonable’ for Mr Metcalfe to have viewed the comments as a reference to his sexual orientation and taken offence.

She said: ‘It appears obvious to me that “half a man” might be interpreted by a gay man as an offensive comment on their sexual orientation. In my view [Mr Staines] ought also to have appreciated that.’

She also ruled that Mr Staines had belittled a female worker by joking to a colleague ‘you’ve’ got her well trained’ when she answered the telephone.

The tribunal in Leeds dismissed his claim of unfair dismissal but ruled his conduct had not been so bad that he should have been dismissed without notice.

As a result the tribunal awarded Mr Staines his notice pay plus 10 per cent for breach of contract plus his holiday pay, amounting to a total of £12,163.

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