The only male member of an NHS health visitor team has won a sex discrimination case after his female boss told him to ‘man up’ in front of a room full of women.
Senior manager Lisa Sanchez deliberately excluded Pete Marsh when saying ‘goodbye ladies’ as she was leaving a meeting because of a ‘growing animus’ towards him, an employment tribunal ruled.
Mr Marsh – who has worked in the health service for more than 20 years – said he had grown tired of being the ‘butt of jokes’ about being the only man in the team.
The tribunal ruled that this culture had been tolerated by bosses including head of service Ms Sanchez, who was found to have joined in with the remarks.
Now, after his internal complaints of bullying were rejected, Mr Marsh has successfully sued the NHS for sex discrimination and is in line for compensation.
The hearing was told the qualified nurse had been working for the NHS since 2002 and started as a student health visitor with Manchester University NHS Trust in January 2013.
He subsequently qualified and at the time of the discrimination was a member of the inner city Cheetham and Crumpsall team, the tribunal heard.
Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Headquarters (stock image)
In May 2016 he became an accredited Unite trade union workplace representative.
Two years later he was involved in an altercation with a female nursery nurse on the team who had ignored his request to help her.
This resulted in her making a complaint about him which led to mediation between the pair.
The Manchester tribunal heard that this mediation was carried out by Ms Sanchez and Mr Marsh felt she had sided with the nursery worker against him and emailed her afterwards to express his dissatisfaction.
This ‘irritated’, Ms Sanchez, the tribunal heard.
At a staff meeting soon afterwards to discuss a plan for increasing the workload of clinics with no increase in time, the hearing was told Ms Sanchez demanded in an ‘aggressive and confrontational’ style which staff were a member of ‘Pete’s Union’.
‘The tribunal considered Ms Sanchez’ approach was intentionally divisive and intimidatory,’ the panel said. ‘The implication was that staff were to be seen as either in Pete’s Union or not, and became about taking sides.’
Mr Marsh claimed that at a meeting in July 2018 Ms Sanchez said hello to every female staff member by name on entering and on leaving said: ‘Goodbye ladies’, ignoring him entirely.
In February 2019, the tribunal heard, a team meeting where concerns about poor staff morale were raised descended into a heated row involving Ms Sanchez and Mr Marsh.
Mr Marsh was the only man in the room with ten female colleagues, the panel heard.
‘The atmosphere in the meeting became tense,’ the hearing was told. ‘There was a five-minute break after which the discussion got out of hand, with most team members involved.
‘[Mr Marsh] complained he was being blanked. Ms Sanchez declared that the behaviour of the team was “childish” and needed to stop and that the team needed to adopt professional behaviour and to respect Trust values.
‘Ms Sanchez also said that people could only speak when spoken to. [Mr Marsh] objected to this and went to leave the meeting, saying Ms Sanchez needed to sort herself out.
‘In reply, Ms Sanchez told [him], “you need to man up”.
‘The tribunal considered that her remark was said in heat of the moment and was unprofessional. Ms Sanchez lost her temper and should have closed the meeting rather than attack [Mr Marsh] verbally as she did.’
The tribunal was told Mr Marsh complained about how he had been spoken to at the meeting by Ms Sanchez.
‘[He] said he felt bullied by Ms Sanchez. He also said that, as a lone male in the workplace, he felt that he took a lot of abuse that he would like to challenge but did not, but that he drew the line at being told that he could only speak when spoken to,’ it said.
The tribunal heard that while Ms Sanchez admitted regretting the remark she had never apologised for it.
Mr Marsh went off work with stress and in May submitted a ‘Dignity at Work’ complaint about bullying and harassment by several staff including Ms Sanchez.
The tribunal heard the Trust then launched an ‘entirely ineffective’ investigation into the health visitor team which eventually dismissed Mr Marsh’s concerns and concluded the whole team needed to develop ’emotional resilience’.
In November 2019 Mr Marsh moved to a different health visitor team and in April 2020 launched tribunal proceedings against his employers, claiming sex discrimination, trade union detriment and disability discrimination.
Upholding a number of his sex claims, the panel – chaired by Employment Judge Marion Batten – ruled that Mr Marsh had been discriminated against.
‘The tribunal accepted [his] evidence that he had often been the butt of jokes or remarks about being the only man in the team or about his sex.
‘He gave evidence that such comments were at time innocuous but he had grown tired of them and was on occasion irritated by the fact that his sex was highlighted unnecessarily.
‘The tribunal found that this culture, and approach to [Mr Marsh] was tolerated by his immediate management who took no steps to deter [his] colleagues and Ms Sanchez herself has been shown to have participated in such commentary.’
The ‘man up’ remark was not only unprofessional it was ‘less favourable treatment’ due to Mr Marsh’s sex, the panel found.
Of the ‘Goodbye Ladies’ salutation, the tribunal said: ‘At best this might be a thoughtless comment but for a senior and experienced manager in the NHS, the tribunal would expect better.
‘In the context of Ms Sanchez’s developing animus towards [Mr Marsh], the tribunal found she was well aware of his presence at the time of her comment.
‘In those circumstances, the tribunal considered on a balance of probabilities that Ms Sanchez had said “Ladies” and that it was deliberate.
‘In reaching this conclusion, the tribunal took into account that the incident came after the mediation, which Ms Sanchez believed had gone well. However, [Mr Marsh] did not agree.
‘He remained unhappy and had complained, which then irritated Ms Sanchez. She acted to [Mr Marsh’s detriment] and treated him less favourably because of his gender, excluding him by her remark upon leaving.’
Mr Marsh was also discriminated against by female colleagues who made false complaints against him.
In addition, Ms Sanchez was found to have treated him unfairly in relation to his role with Unite by asking the ‘Pete’s Union’ question, the tribunal found.
His disability claim was dismissed, however. Mr Marsh’s compensation will be decided at a later hearing.