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Justice for gay designer over email sacking

Justice for gay designer over email sacking

A designer who was dismissed for using a company computer to send explicit e-mails to her lesbian lover won her claim for unfair dismissal yesterday.

Helen Brearley, 41, was dismissed after dispatching hundreds of messages to Theresa Millward, 27, including one reading: “Lick me nice and slow.” Her bosses insisted they were right to get rid of her after claiming her standard of work slipped once she started sending the “offensive” messages.

But an industrial tribunal panel ruled she should not have been sacked and ordered her former employer to pay her £26,245 in compensation.

The hearing in Nottingham was told that the shopfitting company Timber Tailors, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, monitored her e-mails and found that she sent and received more than 300 personal messages — 36 of them sexually explicit or containing bad language — in 15 weeks. One read: “How sweet you taste.”

When her lover expressed surprise that the messages had passed a mail sweep, Ms Brearley replied: “I can make them more dirty if you wish.”

Ms Brearley was married for nine years before separating from her husband in 2002 and now lives with Ms Millward in Holmsfirth, West Yorkshire.

She was suspended on full pay in November 2003 before her dismissal for gross misconduct. At the tribunal, Ms Brearley argued that she was dismissed because the firm, which was about to lay off 38 of its 110 staff, could not afford her redundancy. She also said the e-mails were a private matter between her and her partner and “did no harm to the company” and were none of its business.

Chris Samples, the firm’s commercial manager, told the hearing: “Helen’s commitment to her work had taken a noticeable decline. The IT manager drew some e-mails to my attention. The volume was excessive, the content was sexually explicit, and some of it was offensive.”

Stephen Keevash, the tribunal chairman, delivered the hearing’s ruling: “The employee had been given no prior warning that her behaviour warranted criticism, and undoubtedly if she had been she would have stopped.”

The company is to appeal.

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