An estate agent subjected an employee to direct age discrimination when they told her she was “better suited to a traditional estate agency”.
Ms Gomes started working as an Administrative Assistant with Bron and Morley LLP, an estate agency, trading as Winkworth, in February 2009. In February 2015, she was transferred to another of the company’s branches, Henworth Limited trading as Winkworth Estate Agents.
In January 2016, there were concerns with Ms Gomes’s performance, although these were not raised directly with Ms Gomes. Mr Gold, a co-owner and director of the company, met with Ms Gomes to try to resolve the issues.
Two weeks later, Mr Gold had an impromptu meeting with Ms Gomes, where he informed her that ‘this marriage isn’t working’. He went on to explain that a letter typed by Ms Gomes had contained typographical errors and that a note would be placed on her performance record. Ms Gomes expressed that she was under a lot of pressure and that Mr Tenenblat had twice checked the letter and had not pointed out any errors. She also argued that it was a computer generated error.
Mr Gold replied that she would be “better suited to a traditional estate agency”. Ms Gomes took this to mean that she was being told that she was too old to work at a modern Winkworth office. She felt that she was being told to leave the business at age 59, despite her plans to work for the company until her retirement at the age of 65.
Ms Gomes submitted a grievance, but it was not upheld. Mr Gold had been present during the grievance meeting. Ms Gomes subsequently resigned. Ms Gomes brought claims of direct age discrimination, age-related harassment and constructive unfair dismissal at Watford Employment Tribunal.
The Tribunal held the phrase “better suited to a traditional estate agency” was a reference to Ms Gomes’s age. The Tribunal followed the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “traditional” as long established and in the sense of being around for some time. The context of the phrase convinced the Tribunal that “traditional” was a reference to Ms Gomes being old-fashioned, set in her ways as a Branch Administrator and unlikely to change.
The Employment Tribunal held that the “traditional” comment would not have been said to a younger Branch Administrator.
In terms of justifying the discrimination, Mr Gold argued that he associated a traditional estate agency as having good, core values and that it was not his intention to make Ms Gomes feel that her age was not conducive to working within a modern estate agency. He denied that his use of the word ‘traditional’ had anything to do with age, and said that what he was alluding to was that Ms Gomes was more suited to sales rather than lettings. The Tribunal disagreed and sided with Ms Gomes
Her claim of direct age discrimination was concluded to be well-founded, as were the claims for harassment related to age and constructive unfair dismissal. The Tribunal was satisfied that the reason for Ms Gomes’s resignation was her treatment.
The Tribunal also concluded that Ms Gomes’s concerns were compounded by the fact that the grievance meeting had not been conducted independently and fairly, particularly as Mr Gold had been present at the grievance meeting.
Ms Carolina Gomes v Henworth Limited t/a Winkworth Estate Agents, 16 February 2017, case number 3323775/2016