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Employment law Case Update: Plaistow v Secretary of State for Justice

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Mr Plaistow was a prison officer who was transferred to Her Majesty’s Prison Woodhill in September 2014. He was later suspended in January 2016 and dismissed from his role for gross misconduct in August 2016.                                                                                      

A week after his transfer to HMP Woodhill, Mr Plaistow was asked about his sexuality and whether he was gay due to his ‘spiky’ haircut. His custody manager, Ms Laithwaite then asked him directly about his sexuality at his induction meeting, where Mr Plaistow said that he was bisexual.

After this was disclosed, Mr Plaistow suffered from various comments from his colleagues. These were comments such as “poof” and “vermin”. His prison issue bag was coloured pink and also smeared with a pink fairy cake. Mr Plaistow tried to complain about this to his custody manager and asked for a replacement bag but this request was refused.

Mr Plaistow was also slapped during a staff meeting and no senior members of staff intervened. He was later told he was creating ‘too many problems’ after complaining about the way he was treated at HMP Woodhill.

Mr Plaistow tried to return to his previous position at HMP Bullingdon but after much confusion, his request was denied and he was told it would be reconsidered at a later date.

In December 2015, Mr Plaistow intervened in an altercation between two prisoners. He was accused of using excessive force despite the fact that other prison officers were present but failed to assist him. Mr Plaistow was then suspended and later dismissed.

Mr Plaistow brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal and victimisation because of his sexual orientation – and was successful in his claim.

The tribunal judge was very critical of the delays in the process and the fact that incorrect procedures had been used. The judge found that Ms Laithwaite was aware the whole time that Mr Plaistow was being harassed and bullied because of his sexuality and had communicated this to other staff who had instigated the bullying and this contributed to the behaviour towards Mr Plaistow.

This case illustrates the importance of confidentiality of meetings between managers and employees and shows that matters of bullying and harassment cannot be ignored in the workplace. This can in turn lead to successful claims of discrimination and even unfair dismissal.


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.