Firefighter sacked after calling short, gay colleague ‘half a man’ loses unfair dismissal claim

Nick Duffy
·2-min read

A firefighter who referred to a gay colleague as a “half a man” and “Arthur” has lost a bid to challenge his dismissal.

Philip Staines told an employment tribunal that his remarks towards colleague Johnny Metcalfe were not intended to be homophobic in nature, but instead refer to his short stature.

Staines had pursued a claim for unfair dismissal and breach of contract against his former employer, after he was sacked for breaching conduct rules.

An internal investigation within North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service found that Metcalfe had not intended to be homophobic but “it is recognised that Mr Metcalfe has reasonably interpreted the wording to have a homophobic connotation and it has caused offence”.

‘Reasonable’ to consider remarks homophobic, judge rules

However, employment judge Sophie Buckley ruled earlier this month (8 February) that it was “reasonable” for Metcalfe to have viewed the remarks as homophobic.

Prior to the incident, Staines had been given a written final warning for using the word ‘b***h’ on three occasions in relation to a female fire fighter, the tribunal heard.

According to the tribunal ruling, members of the operational staffing reserve allegedly heard Staines greeting Metcalfe with the phrase: “Now then Jonny you bent bastard,” though the allegations were later rejected by an internal investigation.

The firefighter is alleged to have referred to his colleague as 'Arthur'
The firefighter is alleged to have referred to his colleague as ‘Arthur’

Metcalfe recalled he had initially “decided to leave this incident alone in my own mind”, adding: “Upsetting thought it was I have learned to take abuse about my sexuality over the years (rightly or wrongly).”

Staines is also accused of saying to Metcalfe “alright Arthur do you want a brew”, and saying on another occasion “you’re not a real man; only half a man”.

Firefighter loses unfair dismissal claim

The judge ruled: “I find that the use of language was inappropriate and it demonstrated a lack of judgment and insight but that there was no intention to offend.

“I have accepted, in relation to the first comment, that the claimant ought to have realised that it might be taken as a reference to sexual orientation. Further, it was reasonably considered to be offensive by the recipient.

“In my view, the conduct was certainly sufficient serious to merit dismissal with notice because the claimant was under a final written warning.”