Last week it was reported that BA Air Steward Rothstein Williams, a Seventh Day Adventist, was not permitted to pursue his case for religious discrimination beyond a pre-hearing review at Reading Employment Tribunal. He complained that a female colleague had called him “darling” after asking him to collect some glasses during a flight. He took offence and sued.
Mr Williams was also upset because he thought he was harassed for studying the Bible at work.
The Tribunal dismissed his claims, accepting BA’s explanation that “darling” was a convenient epithet to use because there were so many flight crew that they couldn’t be expected to remember everyone’s names. How about name badges then?
How Mr Williams thought being called “darling” was offensive to his religion isn’t clear, but as the Air Stewardess in question routinely called everyone, male and female, “darling”, a claim for sexual harassment or discrimination was probably also doomed to failure.
The Guardian Work Blog carried an interesting article on this subject by employment lawyer Philip Landau last week. In it Landau quotes from a couple of surveys on the use of terms of endearment in the workplace. One is a survey by Hiscox which reported that 50% of employees in the 25-34 age group had no objection to the use of the term “pet” or “love”, although these findings were contradicted by the OnePoll survey, from which he also quotes, saying that female employees hated being called “love” most of all, followed in order by “darling”, “babe”, “mate” and “hun” and roughly 75% of females surveyed thought such names were unacceptable. 25% said it made them angry. I thought about trying it out here on my female colleagues, in the interests of research, but decided against it as I’m fond of my front teeth. I once called Mrs Jobsworth “hun” and only just managed to escape with my life.
So wasn’t Mr Williams’ anger justifiable? Women often refer to their female co-workers as “hun” or “darling”, so isn’t that objectionable too? Between women it is less likely to be objectionable because there is less likely to be any sexual connotation or implication behind the words. Context is everything and it isn’t satisfactory to say we all getting too politically correct.
Would anyone want to go back to the environment shown in Dominic Sandbrooks’ programme “The 70s” which was on BBC2 last night? For anyone interested in the social and political climate around the time of the introduction of the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act it makes fascinating viewing. On New Year’s Eve 1975, ITV’s end of year celebration programme was the Wheeltappers and Shunters Club hosted by none other than Bernard Manning. Can anyone imagine Bernard Manning being suitable for prime time TV entertainment now, allowing of course for the obvious drawback, of course, that he is dead, but you know what I mean. My only criticism of the series is that Sanbrook tries to pack too much in to each episode.
Finally, a challenge for you, below are two photographs. Spot the difference and tread warily.