Ponytail firefighter loses sexual discrimination case over haircut

Man says female co-workers did not have to cut hair despite having similar haircut

Laura Woodcock
Evening Gazette

CLEVELAND, England — A fireman who claimed he was a victim of sexual discrimination because he was told to get his long locks chopped has lost his case.

Ian Holdsworth also took his employers, Cleveland Fire Authority, to a tribunal at Teesside Magistrates' Court with a claim of harassment.

But the tribunal concluded that both of his claims failed and dismissed them.

Mr Holdsworth, of Hydings Yard, Whitby, brought his case to court in May. During proceedings, he claimed he was "made to feel like a schoolchild" after being told he needed to get "a proper haircut".

The 41-year-old said women in the brigade with similar length hair did not face such requests.

The tribunal heard from five witnesses from Cleveland Fire Authority including station manager Andrew Witham who confronted Mr Holdsworth over the length of his hair.

The authority said the rules concerning haircuts were due to "standard of appearance" and for health and safety reasons.

The court also heard Mr Holdsworth, who joined the Cleveland service in 2000, had previously been told to get his hair cut in 2007. But in August last year the issue arose again, when Mr Holdsworth was asked to cut his ponytail so he met the health and safety rules.

Dismissing his claim, the bench said it was satisfied the "treatment of the claimant would have been applied to that of any other firefighter including a female firefighter for non-compliance with the policy."

The bench also concluded the claim of harassment failed because his bosses "did not have the purpose of violating the claimant's dignity".

Speaking about the result, Phil Lancaster, director of community protection at Cleveland Fire Authority, said: "The actions undertaken by the managers in this particular case were declared as being justified and the policy was considered by the tribunal to be entirely legal."

He said it was disappointing to get to the stage of a tribunal but added: "The image and reputation of the service is very important to us and the conventional standards of appearance set out in our procedures are a significant part of setting the standards that support our excellent reputation."

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