Copyright Moore Barlow LLP (Moore Blatch and Barlow Robbins merged May 2020)

Can a birthday card be discriminatory?

A legal secretary, Miss Munro, whose colleagues asked about her 50th birthday and sent her a
birthday card, claimed she suffered age discrimination as a result.

Describing herself as a private person, Miss Munro said the incident had left her so upset she left work early, claiming colleagues’ comments had left her feeling “ambushed, punched, slapped and humiliated.”

According to the firm, they had long standing concerns about Miss Munro’s poor performance. For this reason, a month after the incident above, the firm decided that that they would have to either
bring disciplinary proceedings against Munro, or mutually agree a date for her departure.

Munro denied her performance had been poor, claiming instead that she had suffered discrimination due to her age.

Munro’s case was dismissed. The employment tribunal found that Munro’s “sensitivity about her age appeared unusual and extreme”, adding that “the birthday card was intended for the claimant as an act of kindness.”

Comment

We acknowledge that the circumstances surrounding the Claimant’s sensitivity is unusual and not something that is likely to come up very often. We are not suggesting that you should impose a blanket ban on birthday cards at the office. However, this case does illustrate that everyone reacts differently, depending on their opinions and feelings. Managers need to be wary of the fact that something which seems inconsequential to them may be interpreted completely differently by someone else in their team.


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