FOLLOWING the sacking of Sky Sports presenter Andy Gray, Peterborough Business spoke to Robert Dillarstone and Laura Burke (left), employment lawyer and MD of Greenwoods Solicitors LLP about the reaction by Sky to the comments made by Gray and fellow presenter Richard Keys. Gray and Keys were disciplined for their comments about assistant referee, Sian Massey but Gray was subsequently sacked for further ‘unacceptable and offensive behaviour’. This was due to his conduct caught on camera, making suggestive comments to fellow presenter, Charlotte Jackson.
PB: Do Andy Gray’s actions amount to sexual harassment?
Robert Dillarstone: Sexual harassment occurs where unwanted conduct relating to sex has the purpose or effect of violating another’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
This means that any employee of Sky Sports who heard the comments may have been offended, even if Sian and Charlotte weren’t themselves. Similarly, Gray may not have intended to offend either woman, but if this was the effect, it would amount to harassment.
PB: So Sky was justified in dismissing him, then?
Laura Burke: Even though the comments were made off air, they were still made in the course of Gray’s employment and as such, Sky Sports can be held vicariously liable for them.
Many claim that the comments were just ‘banter’ and par for the course in a male-dominated industry. However, employers cannot be seen to be tolerating harassment and the move to dismiss Gray sends a clear message that such behaviour will not go unpunished.
PB: What about the subsequent claims by Gray?
RD: It is now being reported that Gray has instructed solicitors in relation to his dismissal. As a Sky employee for the best part of 20 years, he will no doubt claim that the dismissal was unfair and disproportionate – particularly in light of revelations that other presenters have also made potentially sexist remarks and Sky Sports has failed to deal with matters consistently. Furthermore, Gray may be advised to claim compensation for damage to reputation and loss of future employment prospects.
PB: What lessons can be learned by other employers from this high profile story and how can employers protect themselves in such situations?
LB: Employers have a potential defence against claims of sexual harassment committed by employees if they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from making such discriminatory remarks. Such steps may include:
• Implementing effective and updated equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies;
• Ensuring managers and employees receive adequate training on such policies and understand what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable; and
• Ensuring that complaints are dealt with properly under the correct procedures.
Undoubtedly, Sky Sports found themselves in a difficult situation with such a high profile figure. However, it is a timely reminder that what might be deemed as banter in the workplace, can actually fall foul of discrimination legislation and have serious consequences.
Interestingly, the comments made by Keys and Gray have done nothing to deter women from entering the industry as the FA reports that they had been inundated with calls from women interested in becoming football officials.