Harassment: Conduct that creates an offensive or humiliating environment

In Raj v Capita Business Services Limited & Ward EAT0074/19/LA the EAT considered the first tribunal’s dismissal of Mr Raj’s claims of unwanted conduct either of a sexual nature or unwanted conduct relating to his sex, pursuant to s.26 of the Equality Act 2010 (the “Act”). The issue was that the claimant had felt uncomfortable when his female manager massaged his shoulders in their open plan office.  Whilst the tribunal found this to be unwanted conduct which created an offensive environment for him, it found that on balance, the evidence provided brought them to the conclusion that whilst the conduct was unwise and uncomfortable but not related to gender, but more likely due to misguided encouragement. This part of the claim failed.

On appeal, the EAT considered the two-stage burden of proof test set out by s.136 of the Act and explained in Igen v Wong [2005] ICR 931. The first stage is that the claimant prove facts from which the tribunal could decide, in the absence of any other explanation, that the respondent committed an unlawful act of discrimination. The second part is only applicable if the first stage is met, and then puts the burden of proof onto the respondent who must prove he/she did not commit that unlawful act. The EAT agreed with the tribunal’s finding that in this case, the claimant fulfilled stage one – it was agreed that there was conduct that was unwanted, thereby producing “an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for him”. However, the remaining issue for stage two was whether this conduct related to the claimant’s gender. The tribunal found the evidence to show a prima facie case that this conduct related to his gender to be very limited. The appeal was on the basis that the tribunal had erred in law by not approaching the test properly but the EAT did not agree; the burden of proof had not shifted to the respondent and, in any event, the explanation given by the respondent had been accepted.

Published: 25 September 2019

Article Sections: Discrimination

Tags: sex discrimination, sexual harassment, equality act


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