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Sainsbury’s manager wins disability harassment claim after being excluded from social media post

In the case of Mr. D C v Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd, a long-serving manager won a disability harassment claim after being excluded from a social media post celebrating International Men’s Day while on sick leave. The tribunal found his exclusion caused humiliation, ruling in his favor and awarding compensation.

In the case of Mr D C v Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd a long-serving Sainsbury’s manager has won a disability harassment claim after being excluded from a social media post celebrating International Men’s Day while he was on sick leave.

Mr DC was on extended leave due to anxiety when his regional director posted on LinkedIn, acknowledging and celebrating male managers who “show up for work each day, put on a name badge, and provide leadership for thousands of colleagues.”

Having worked at Sainsbury’s since he was a schoolboy, Mr DC said his exclusion from the post made him feel “violated.” Following a lawsuit for disability harassment, an employment judge ruled in his favour, stating he had been “humiliated” by being left out and is now in line for compensation.

On International Men’s Day, November 19, Regional Director Matt Hourihan posted on Yammer (Sainsbury’s internal message board) and LinkedIn to mark the occasion.

“I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the male leaders in my team and say thank you for all that you do to help make our stores,” read part of the post. Hourihan, who managed around 5,000 staff members and is now head of customer service at Sainsbury’s, thanked the male managers for their support and leadership. However, he did not name or tag Mr DC, nor include his photo.

Mr DC’s wife informed him about the post, which he testified caused “untold further damage” to his health. He said it created “angst” as he faced questions from friends, colleagues, and LinkedIn connections about whether he had left Sainsbury’s.

“Mr. DC gave evidence that he felt excluded, humiliated, and violated by the post and believed he was excluded because of his absence,” Employment Judge Rhian Brace said.

Hourihan explained that Mr DC, who had been off work for 16 weeks, had deleted his WhatsApp account and requested no contact to recover. Hourihan did not want to bombard him with notifications and lacked a photograph of him, which he felt inappropriate to request.

On November 22, Mr DC filed a complaint with 48 specific concerns against his boss. The investigator partially upheld one concern related to the LinkedIn post but found it did not breach Sainsbury’s social media policy and any impact on Mr DC was unintended. Mr DC’s appeal of this result was dismissed.

After lengthy discussions about his return-to-work date, Mr DC was dismissed in June 2023. He sued for disability discrimination, harassment, and unfair dismissal.

Upholding his harassment and unfavourable treatment claims related to the LinkedIn post, Judge Brace stated, “[Mr. DC] was a valued and long-serving store manager at Sainsbury’s,” noting that his exclusion from the post was related to his disability.

The tribunal acknowledged Hourihan’s intent to prevent unwanted contact during Mr DC’s leave but accepted that the exclusion caused Mr DC to feel humiliated. Judge Brace remarked, “It was reasonable for [Mr. DC], as a senior store manager, to feel humiliated, particularly when nothing prevented Matt Hourihan from informing [Mr. DC] of the post during their conversation the day prior.”

A remedy hearing to determine his compensation will be held at a later date.

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