AN UPMARKET food shop worker has won nearly £30,000 in an age discrimination claim after her boss told her wearing a Star Wars mask hid the wrinkles on her face.
Julie Bedford was subjected to ageist comments from Allan Wheeler, who also called the then 57 year old 'thick and old' in front of customers when she couldn't work a piece of computer software.
The female worker was told by boss her wearing a Star Wars mask hid the wrinkles on her face Credit: Getty
The cheese and wine shop owner also sexually harassed the female employee by smacking her bottom and drunkenly telling her 'go down into the cellar, drop your knickers and bend over the table and I’ll be down in a minute'.
Mrs Bedford was later sacked for 'redundancy reasons'. But an employment tribunal found the real reason was because she had complained about Mr Wheeler's behaviour.
She has now been awarded nearly £30,000 in compensation.
The tribunal heard Mrs Bedford worked at the Black Mouse Cheese and Wine Emporium in the town of Pudsey, near Leeds, West Yorks, from October 2016.
Mrs Bedford told the hearing that Mr Wheeler had made a series of discriminatory remarks to her.
On numerous occasions he told her she was 'taking a long time to heal because she was old' after she had broken her ribs in July 2019.
In May 2020, there was a post on Facebook of Mrs Bedford at work wearing a Star Wars mask. The Leeds tribunal was shown the post, in which Mr Wheeler said: “oh she doesn’t mind, it hides her lines.”
Mrs Bedford added in June 2020 her boss told her she was 'thick and old' in front of customers for not being able to use iCloud, computer software that stores data online rather than on a hard drive.
Employment Judge Neil Maidment said: “The comment was made in front of customers and she had told [Mr Wheeler] that she did not find it amusing.
“She did not believe that the other comments had been made in a joking manner. She did not consider the subject matter to be one to be joked about and considered that [Mr Wheeler] had been trying to demean her.”
In terms of sexual harassment, the tribunal heard in June 2020 Mr Wheeler said to her: “go down into the cellar, drop your knickers and bend over the table and I’ll be down in a minute.”
The judge noted: “She described how this had happened on an evening when [Mr Wheeler] was drunk and had spilled wine.
“She said that she felt trapped at work and that [Mr Wheeler] was not joking and had sworn at her.
“He had texted her the next day asking if she was coming in. There was no reason for this other than, she said, him realising that he had overstepped the mark.
“She had subsequently written a text message saying that she felt that she was walking on egg shells at work.”
Mrs Bedford added on three separate occasions around May or June 2020, Mr Wheeler hit her on the bottom.
The tribunal heard she said that she had been cutting cheese and leaning over a cabinet and he smacked her bottom in a 'forceful hit' causing it to be bruised.
On another occasion he had done this when she was doing paperwork and on a final occasion in a gazebo.
She said that she had said to him he had no right to touch her, yet after she had said this after the first occasion of physical contact, he had done it on two further occasions.
Judge Maidment said: “They occurred and had the humiliating and offensive effect on [Mrs Bedford] that she describes. It was clear from [her] evidence that she was upset and disturbed by this conduct.
“An intimidating working environment had been created by the second respondent’s actions. [Mrs Bedford] suffered age related and sexual harassment.”
The tribunal heard raised a grievance in July 2020 about not being paid her full wage despite not being furloughed. In this letter she also mentioned the harassment Mr Wheeler had subjected her to but did not go into details.
She said she was not happy nothing had been done regarding Mr Wheeler's 'behaviour' and the way she had been treated by him.
About two weeks later, Mrs Bedford was sacked by a letter claiming the reason for the dismissal was the impact of coronavirus and redundancy.
But Judge Maidment ruled this was not the case: “[They] wrote to [Mrs Bedford] purportedly dismissing her by reason of redundancy. The tribunal has however no evidence from the [company] of a redundancy situation.
“She had in fact been told that she would receive an increase in pay and become responsible for the store, whilst [Mr Wheeler] concentrated on e-commerce.
“A dispute, however, had developed over payments and the other issues [Mrs Bedford] raised as part of her grievance. The letter terminating her employment came shortly after that grievance, without any advance warning.”
At earlier hearings Mr Wheeler had defended himself against Mrs Bedford's claims. However, he did not attend the full tribunal.
Mrs Bedford won claims of unauthorised deductions from wages, unpaid holiday pay, unfair dismissal, age related harassment and sexual harassment and was awarded £29,934.39 by the tribunal.
Besides the Star Wars mask remark, her boss also told her she was 'thick and old' in front of customers for not being able to use iCloud Credit: GettyInternet Explorer Channel Network