A market researcher has lost her unfair dismissal claim after being sacked for fat shaming her supervisor.
The researcher told her boss that she wouldn’t feel the cold because of her ‘extra padding’.
The Fair Work Commission found the company had a right to dismiss the worker because the comments breached its workplace bullying policies.
Deputy president Richard Clancy said:
“I am satisfied her dismissal was not a disproportionate outcome in response to cruel, insulting and demeaning comments.”
Worker loses unfair dismissal after ‘fat shaming’
Julia Bastoni worked for market research company ORC International for eight years as an interviewer.
She also acted as a National Union of Workers delegate.
Bastoni made the comments when talking with her supervisor about turning on the heating in the company’s Melbourne office.
When the supervisor said that she didn’t feel the cold, Bastoni replied that is because she had “natural extra padding”.
The supervisor later complained that she felt upset and humiliated by the comments.
ORC sacked Bastoni for the comments, and also for sending a sarcastic Facebook message to her supervisor the previous month.
The supervisor sent Bastoni home for using her mobile phone in the call centre at work.
“WEIGHT DISCRIMINATION IS RIFE IN AUSTRALIA, BUT SHOULD IT BE UNLAWFUL?”
‘A scientific fact’
Bastoni claimed unfair dismissal, arguing that she didn’t mean to hurt the supervisor’s feelings.
She added that she had merely pointed out “a scientific fact”.
“There seems to be some basic science to the effect that skinny people experience the cold more than overweight people,” she said.
Bastoni described her choice of words as “euphemistic” and not abusive.
However, she did concede it “might seem indelicate to point out that the reason why [the supervisor] did not feel the cold … could be a basic biological factor, such as insulating fat layers”.
She argued some people are less tactful than others and “not every insensitive remark in a workplace lurks as a potential basis for an employee’s dismissal”.
Finally, she boasted that she had “appropriately represented her work colleagues and got a result for the greater good of her colleagues; that is, a warmer work environment on a cold Melbourne morning”.
What the Commission said
Deputy president Clancy described Bastoni’s arguments as “neither impressive nor persuasive”.
“To suggest Ms Bastoni’s comments are justifiable on some sort of a utilitarian basis and the issue here was the [supervisor’s] lack of insight into the state or condition of her body beggars belief.”
Euphemistic language did not reduce the seriousness of the conduct, he said, as it “simply involves the substitution of roundabout or vague language for that which is harsh or blunt”.
“Ms Bastoni exhibited a lack of insight into the inappropriateness of her choice of wording.
“While I accept she was aggrieved, the sardonic and accusatory tone Ms Bastoni employed was unwarranted in circumstances where [the supervisor] was simply carrying out what had been asked of her by her superiors.”
Finally, Mr Clancy said that the “padding” comment was part of a “pattern of increasingly belligerent and disruptive behaviour”.
Adding that, even by themselves, they constituted a valid reason for dismissal.
What the experts say
Christiaan van Oeveren from IR Claims says the case is a reminder for workers to keep personal comments to themselves.
“It is always good practice to never make comments that are personal in nature to work colleagues, especially if they are about someone’s appearance or body shape,” he said.
“A comment that you might think is harmless or funny might not be taken that way by the other person.”
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