Sex discrimination claim – Museum worker loses case

After bringing a claim against his employer for sex discrimination, a male museum worker had his case ruled against him when the judge found that he was the person treating other men and women differently.

Jonathan McMurray was working for the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum along with two other assistants at the same level. As part-time education assistants, they reported to the same manager, Ms Laura Hutchinson.

Shortly after he joined the museum in 2019, an incident occurred when several elderly men entered the museum and went to an area where a school group was using a room for a workshop.

An assistant, Ms Cathcart tried to explain to the men that the hall was being used by children but Mr McMurray had ‘inserted’ himself between her and the men, and undermined her.

Questioned in a meeting the following day with his manager, McMurray said that his colleague was upset and had complained because she had been irritated by a document he had put together on classroom tips and this had been because of his age and gender.

On completing his tribunal claim form some 16 months later, McMurray expanded this account to claim that Ms Cathcart had sworn at him and said that he was ‘doing the fucking bloke thing.’ This he claimed was followed by a brief rant on men, both angry and spiteful.  

McMurray told the tribunal that he had been attacked with no warning by Ms Cathcart, who had then launched into a verbal tirade using abusive terms relating to his gender. This, he claimed, had been done in the presence of public and school groups.

When other colleagues were questioned, the tribunal learned that no such rant had taken place, although Ms Cathcart had muttered under her breath that he was a ‘pain in the arse.’ Ms Cathcart did seek to make amends when she later messaged him to apologise for ‘being a crab head.’

Upon further questioning the tribunal found that this was the only potentially relevant remark to McMurray's claim. There had not been any reference to gender and abusive tirade, as he had claimed.

The tribunal heard that in 2020 McMurray had told his consultant psychiatrist that he did not like working with women because he found them to be manipulative.

The judge stated that if anyone had difficulties dealing with the opposite gender, it appeared to have been McMurray himself.

McMurray’s manager Mr Hutchinson testified that his behaviour had been markedly different when he was talking to men instead of women.

Mr Hutchinson stated that he had observed this trend far more frequently with female staff members. McMurray's conversations with men were completely different, with him asking questions and leaving them space to speak, without correcting them.

When talking to women staff members he would lecture, inform, advise and educate them. 

Ten days after he left the museum in December 2020 McMurray was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. He had not mentioned seeking diagnosis to his manager until March 2020.

At the beginning of 2020 he took a period of annual and paternity leave, returning to continue in the same vein as before. The tribunal was told how he continued to lecture his colleagues, talk over them, and generally start and pursue conversations which he alone found interesting.

McMurray's probation period was extended after his probation review, where it was pointed out that there were communication issues with his teammates.

He resigned in October 2020, his resignation being agreed in light of a period of shielding during the Covid-19 pandemic.

With no evidence to explain the delay, the tribunal ruled that the sex discrimination claim was out of date by 16 months. Even if it had been filed in time, there were no grounds for sex discrimination.

Referring to McMurray's claim for disability discrimination, the tribunal agreed that he had suffered from ASD while working at the museum. However, because his employer had no constructive knowledge of his problem, they could not make any reasonable adjustments. The claim failed.

A final claim of unfair dismissal was also dismissed because although McMurray had claimed his probation extension was a breach of contract. The tribunal ruled that this was a part of McMurray's employment.


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