Rachel Broughton, an employment tribunal judge, has ruled that suggesting a woman’s looks might help a business is not “flattering” and instead risks “diminishing” her. The judge added that it was unlikely that the term would be applied to a man at work.

Her ruling came in a case involving an accounts manager at a vehicle recovery firm who sued her employers after a boss told her to attend a meeting because a male client liked “pretty women”.

Emma Nunn was “humiliated and undermined” after her boss, Adam Crouch, extended the invitation purely for her physical appearance. Crouch was then said to have “demeaned” Nunn further by telling her to “calm down” when she refused to attend the meeting. He also referred to her as “babes” in a message.

Nunn resigned from her £60,000 job and is now in line to receive compensation after the tribunal found that she had suffered sex discrimination at G & MJ Crouch & Son. The judge ruled that the comments had the effect of “reducing her value to the business” and would not have been made to a male colleague.

The hearing in Leicester was told that Crouch took over the business from his father in 2015, but that Nunn had known him as a longstanding family friend since she was 18. She told the tribunal that their friendship led to a “blurring of the nature of their working relationship” and that Crouch “did not speak, consult with, or treat any other female employee like he spoke and treated me”.

However, the tribunal found that the lack of “a purely professional working relationship” was actually “encouraged” by both Crouch and Nunn.

In 2021, Crouch sent Nunn a message regarding a planned meeting that said: “You should come as [a customer] is attending — he likes pretty women.”

When Nunn replied, “I am not coming if just for pretty face”, Crouch responded by telling her to “calm down”, signing off with “ok babes xx”.

Nunn resigned later that month and sued for sex discrimination and harassment.

Most of her claims were dismissed, but her complaint about the “pretty woman” remark was upheld. The judge said the comment “would not have been said to a man, or an equivalent comment made about a male colleague’s physical attractiveness as a reason for being invited to a work meeting”.

She added that it “should have been obvious” to Crouch that the comment “would be unwelcome”.

The tribunal found that the reference to “pretty” was sexual in nature and that the implication was that the customer found “her sexually attractive and would for that reason get some pleasure at looking at her in the meeting and/or interacting with her”.

A hearing to award compensation will take place at a later date.

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