Tribunal rules 'pretty women' comment by Leicestershire recovery firm boss was sex discrimination

A building is shown, with signs saying 'Crouch Recovery'.
The offices of Crouch Recovery, based in Kibworth. -Credit:Google

The boss of a Leicestershire vehicle recovery firm featured on TV asked a female employee to attend a meeting because a client liked ‘pretty women’, an employment tribunal has revealed. The judge in the case involving Kibworth-based G and M.J. Crouch and Son – known as Crouch Recovery – said managing director Adam Crouch’s comment on WhatsApp would not have been made to a man, and that in response to the employee's complaint about it, his follow up comment of ‘Ok babes’ was ‘making fun of her reaction’.

The case was brought by former employee Emma Nunn, who made several claims of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, harassment relating to sex, and unfair dismissal as well as claims under two other sections of the employment rights act against the breakdown firm, which features in the Channel 5 series Trucking Hell. The ‘pretty women’ message was the only claim not to be dismissed by tribunal Judge Rachel Broughton, who said the comment was ‘demeaning’ of Miss Nunn’s role at the firm and concluded it amounted to 'direct sex discrimination'.

Ms Nunn, who worked for the family-run company for several years in two stints, was ‘long standing friends’ with Mr Crouch and had known his family since she was 18. She was an account manager for the company at the time she resigned in May 2021. On April 8, 2021, Miss Nunn sent Mr Crouch a message via WhatsApp about Zenith, a Crouch Recovery client.

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The tribunal’s transcript of the messages reads:

Claimant: “ Is there a Zenith meeting soon ???

Adam Crouch : oh yeah you should come as David Rider is attending “” he likes pretty women

Claimant: Gavin’s boss? Adam I should be needed there as I look after Zenith! I am not coming If just for pretty face

Adam Crouch: calm down Royder! Ok babes xx”

Royder is a play on the nickname “Emma Royd”, described by the judge as a play on the word 'haemorrhoid'. Miss Nunn said in her evidence that Mr Crouch gave the name to her, while he alleges she called herself this name after being given it during previous employment with another company. An allegation by Miss Nunn that he called her by that name to a client was found ‘not proven’ by the judge.

In a letter sent later in April 2021 to Mr Crouch and the finance director of the company, Miss Nunn said of the messages: “Is that all I get recognised for that I am attractive??? If Zenith were coming in, I should also have been consulted and or at least told straight away. I answer 50 plus queries for Zenith daily.”

In her analysis of the Whatsapp messages, Judge Broughton said: “While the claimant and Adam Crouch were clearly on very friendly and informal terms, this exchange was about work and it was clear that the claimant was upset. Mr Adam Crouch accepted his response was tongue in cheek i.e. he was being flippant with her deliberately."

The judge added: "Adam Crouch gave evidence that he sent the reply in the terms which he did because of the type of dialogue he and the claimant had. Mr Adam Crouch also gave evidence that if he said the equivalent to a man he would not be insulted to be called handsome. However, what is important is context and his evidence is not that he used such terms to male employees but that he did with the claimant because of the type of dialogue they had.”

During cross examination, Miss Nunn conceded she had used the term ‘babes’ towards male employees ‘and that there was nothing gender specific about it’. But Judge Broughton said: “However, Mr Adam Crouch was not being affectionate, he was being sarcastic and teasing her when she was clearly upset by his comment.” The tribunal ruled the male employees would not have had the same comments made to them, or had their physical attractiveness given as a reason to attend a meeting.

The judge said: “While they were on good [terms], it should have been obvious to him that such a comment would be unwelcome. It was not flattering the claimant, it was reducing her value to the business in that context, and what she would contribute to the meeting. The tribunal accept the impact the claimant alleges this comment had, it was demeaning of her role and she complained to Adam Crouch about it, which was an unusual step for her to take. His response was to demean her further. ‘Babes’ in this context was not affectionate, it was making fun of her reaction and the impact his first comment had."

Crouch Recovery’s legal representative had applied for an anonymity order for Mr Rider, which Judge Broughton refused. But the judge did include a disclaimer in the ruling that Mr Rider did not give evidence to the tribunal, and that the tribunal “makes no finding on whether or not Mr Rider had ever made any comment to Mr Adam Crouch or indeed anyone else, about liking pretty women.”

There will be a further hearing to decide the amount of compensation to be awarded. The hearing took place at Leicester's employment tribunal court last year, but the tribunals service published the judgement for the first time this week.

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