In May 2006, Peter Lewis, the former global head of equity trading at the bank HSBC, lost his £5m claim, under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, that he was dismissed from his job because he was gay.
Mr Lewis had been dismissed on the ground of ‘gross personal misconduct’ following an alleged incident of sexual harassment, at the bank’s gym, which he denies.
Although he lost regarding the main issue of the claim, the Employment Tribunal (ET) did uphold four of Mr Lewis’s complaints that he had been less favourably treated than a heterosexual employee would have been during the early stages of the investigation into the complaint. A significant factor identified by the ET was the view it formed of the honesty and probity of the person who conducted the investigation.
HSBC claimed that this ruling was unfair. Mr Lewis cross-appealed against the ET’s main finding.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal allowed HSBC’s appeal, in so far as it remitted the four successful grounds of complaint to a fresh ET for rehearing, but upheld the original ET’s finding on the main issue.
Investigations of allegations of this nature should be handled with great care to ensure that they do not inadvertently discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. Staff training should be considered in order to avoid the danger that pre-conceived ideas as to gay and lesbian stereotypes influence the behaviour or language of those carrying out the investigation process.