Sues you, sir!

Litigious Britain gets sillier.

Ray Crowley

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Topics Politics

Oh! Sues you, sir!

Litigation is becoming as silly as the Fast Show. Posh Spice Victoria Beckham has agreed to pay damages of £55,000 (plus £100,000 costs), after she expressed concerns that a shop was selling fake autographs of her husband footballer David Beckham. The shop owners insisted the signed photos were genuine, and filed proceedings accusing Posh of slander. They complained that her comments, made as they were in front of other customers, were damaging to their reputation as traders.

Okay, so she made a mistake. And at £55,000, it was a very expensive mistake. I feel a bit sorry for her – she was just out shopping, saw a signed picture that she thought was a fake, and said so. It doesn’t seem punishable to such a hefty tune – she didn’t immediately ring up the Sun to shoot her mouth off. The solicitor for the shop owners even conceded that she was not rude when saying what she did.

Let’s face it, Posh and Becks aren’t known for being the brightest of couples. If they get sued every time they get something wrong, even they could end up poor. Obviously, it’s not so bad to get stung for damages if you’re rich. But what if you’re the grouchy lady who works in the charity shop and gossips for Britain?

What happens when you go to a Posh Spice concert and say to your friend that she’s not singing live, and people overhear you? Is it okay to ask ‘Are you sure this is real leather?’ in Top Shop? I’ll certainly be more careful with what I say about critical responses to this column. Note to self: never make allegation of sense of humour bypass operation.

More silly litigation – apparently, it doesn’t ‘suit you sir’ in the case of Matthew Thompson versus his employer Jobcentre Plus. Thompson recently won a sex discrimination case – his complaint was that he was asked to wear a tie at work, while female members of staff got away with wearing t-shirts and even football shirts. (That’s ridiculous for a start – everyone knows women don’t like football.)

What I want to know is why he went to all the trouble of bring his work to a tribunal, just because they asked him to wear a tie? In terms of sexual equality in the workplace his complaint is hardly a glass-ceiling smasher. According to BBC News, Thompson told the hearing that he deserved compensation for injured feelings and claimed that his human rights had been breached. ‘It is discriminating against me as a man to accept a standard not expected of a woman’, said Thompson (1). Uh oh – wait until he finds out we get to sit down to pee.

Last year, at another Jobcentre Plus in Birmingham, civil servant Dennis Fitzpatrick went into work looking like a prat to protest that he was not allowed to wear his jeans at the office. Fitzpatrick had received a written warning for wearing black jeans into work, and went to discuss the possibility of legal action with his union. ‘They seem happy for me to go to work in a kilt, lumberjack’s shirt and pink tie – I think I look stupid’, he said. ‘I can’t believe they’re wasting taxpayers’ money on something as pathetic as this.’ (2)

Is it just me who misses the logic in this behaviour? I’m not allowed to wear jeans to work, so instead of putting up with wearing other trousers, I’ll dress up in a really stupid manner. It seems to be more rewarding these days to complain about being hard done by than it is to do well at your job.

If complaints about Fitzpatrick’s trousers are so pathetic, why doesn’t he just save his jeans for the weekend and get on with his job? Given that both these complainants work for Jobcentre Plus, you would hope that’s what they spend their working lives encouraging others to do.

(1) Man wins tie sex ruling, BBC News, 11 March 2003

(2) Dress protest worker wears kilt, BBC News, 29 October 2002

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Topics Politics

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