After all the recent interest in Miriam O’Reilly’s age discrimination employment tribunal claim against the BBC, there has been widespread media coverage this week of a very different sort of employment dispute: the row over the behaviour of Sky Sports’ presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys.
The widespread absence of sympathy for Gray and Keys in light of their sexist remarks is noteworthy. Most commentators, and indeed most of the general public as far as I can tell, are agreed that such behaviour has no place in the modern world. From a legal perspective, that is clearly right. Any employer who condones a culture of sex discrimination and harassment amongst the workforce is asking for serious trouble. There is no financial cap on discrimination claims, whilst there are also other business risks such as potential damaging publicity and even the loss of clients and staff if the issue is handled badly.
To try to prevent problems, employers need good policies in place on equal opportunities, harassment, acceptable conduct and so on. Many employers need to look again at this whole area in light of the changes introduced by the Equality Act 2010.
It will be interesting to see whether Andy Gray brings a claim against Sky over the termination of his contract. Given the fact he was already suing the News of the World over the phone hacking scandal, I imagine there is a fair chance he will now sue Sky, particularly since the papers are reporting that he has already instructed lawyers.
Such disputes often settle behind closed doors on confidential terms, but Sky might decide to contest any claim for compensation on principle. There have been some high profile breach of contract claims in the world of English football in recent years. Kevin Keegan was awarded £2million compensation in his constructive dismissal claim against Newcastle, and a similarly large sum was reportedly recovered by Alan Curbishley in his claim against West Ham. However, the facts of those cases were very different to Gray’s case and it would be dangerous to draw any parallels, except for the fact that no doubt all concerned understand the off-side rule!