A long-serving insurance worker has won an age discrimination case after his boss claimed he has been around “as long as Pontius Pilate”.
Shirley Bellamy, the company’s managing director, made the remark to David Finch as they were negotiating a settlement deal for him to leave her firm, an employment tribunal heard.
The 66-year-old - who had worked in the industry “a great many years” - found the comparison to the ancient Roman governor of Israel who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago “humiliating and offensive”.
Mr Finch is now in line for compensation after winning age and disability discrimination claims against firm Clegg Gifford & Co.
The East London hearing was told the insurance veteran had been working since 2017 as a credit controller for the company at its office in Romford, Essex.
The tribunal heard he was “obviously very good” at his job but suffered from diabetes and anaemia and took medication which made him drowsy.
‘Humiliating and degrading’ remark about taking a nap
The hearing was told that because of this Mr Finch sometimes fell asleep in the office, leading Mrs Bellamy in early 2020 to repeatedly ask him within earshot of others “are you planning on a nap this afternoon?”
Mr Finch found the remark “humiliating and degrading”, the tribunal was told.
In March of that year, Mr Finch was meant to be shielding due to Covid. In a conversation about sick leave, Mrs Bellamy suggested Mr Finch bring forward a planned holiday.
The tribunal heard that she told him: “You should take the vacation now. Otherwise, you may not be around in September or October.”
Mr Finch believed that Mrs Bellamy meant he might be dead by then.
He emailed her: “To have such a hurtful comment said...has only added to the stress and anxiety and uncertainty about the current situation.”
In April, the government introduced the furlough scheme which the company offered to many of its employees, including Mr Finch, which he accepted, with the alternative being redundancy.
When workers were allowed back into the office, Mr Finch expressed his concerns about using public transport and coming into the office as government guidelines suggested he stayed home.
In July, he told the company he was allowed back into the office but might face issues using the restricted public transport routes.
But in the same month, he received a letter setting out a settlement agreement with no previous consultation that also set out terms for redundancy.
Mr Finch replied to Mrs Bellamy - who herself has worked at Clegg Gifford for 48 years - and noted the offer had incorrectly stated his start date at the firm and remarking on his long service.
She emailed back, saying: “You have received the maximum amount of statutory redundancy pay, and we know you have been around since Pontius was a Pilate...We will amend the necessary information and get this over to you.”
The hearing was told Mr Finch refused to accept the proposed settlement and instead replied with a series of allegations against Mrs Bellamy.
In response the managing director demanded he return to the office to fulfil his contract, following which Mr Finch resigned.
The tribunal upheld part of Mr Finch’s claim of victimisation, constructive dismissal and part of his claim of age-related harassment.
Reference to Pontius Pilate ‘objectively capable of being offensive’
In its judgment the panel said: “It may be due to the longevity of [Mrs Bellamy’s] career, but it became apparent...that she has a complete lack of such as equality or diversity training.
“The picture we have got of [Mrs Bellamy] is that she can be somewhat thoughtless in how she expresses herself and in ways which we have now found can be, on occasion, insensitive at least.
“The Employment Tribunal is unanimous that the reference to Pontius Pilate is objectively capable of being offensive. By analogy, it might be deeply offensive to a Christian.”
Asking Mr Finch if he was going to have a nap was “crass”, the panel found, and in regard to the early holiday remark, it added: “[Mr Finch] clearly perceived that to be deeply hurtful and humiliating given how life-threatening his disabilities were.”
The tribunal also found that Mrs Bellamy was “forcing his hand” and victimised him by demanding he return to work after rejecting the settlement offer.
Overall, “these acts of discrimination were cumulatively serious enough to justify [Mr Finch] in resigning and treating himself as constructively dismissed because of this discrimination,” it ruled.
A hearing to determine the level of compensation Mr Finch will receive will take place at a later date.