Toby King, a former employee at Tesco, has been awarded £48,000 by an employment tribunal after being trapped in a room by his female boss. 

A former Tesco worker has been classed as a victim of sex discrimination by an employment tribunal in Watford.

In an absence review meeting prior to the incident, Mr. King told his female manager, Jo Francis, that he was suffering from PTSD and taking medication for it, explaining his increasing absence from work.

However, around two months later, during a discussion intended to talk about working overtime shifts, Mr. King recounted how he told Ms. Francis that he felt uncomfortable staying in the room with her, that he was leaving and he went to open the door to leave.

The tribunal noted that CCTV images show the claimant “[squeezing] out the door” which was “consistent with him having become increasingly anxious and borderline desperate to get out of the room”.

At this point, Ms. Francis prevented Mr. King from leaving the room he was being interviewed in by putting her hand out firmly, placing her foot against the door and blocking him in the doorway.

The employment tribunal also heard how Ms. Francis made robust physical contact with Mr. King by grabbing and holding onto his arm, stopping him from leaving the room.

In an investigation following this incident, Ms. Francis was reported to have stated:

If I made him feel that way – I didn’t expect him to be intimidated, from a human perspective – he’s a 6 foot guy – I am a little woman. I felt the same way.

She also claimed to have forgotten about Mr. King’s PTSD as he hadn’t mentioned it during the exchange on 19 December or said at any time that he had been claustrophobic or scared.

This sentiment was echoed by another Tesco manager investigating the matter, who said:

I could not see a smaller person who is heavily pregnant making robust contact with [the claimant] or acting aggressively or in an intimidating manner. As [Jo] was heavily pregnant, it was my belief that she was quite vulnerable and would have avoided any form of physical altercation at all costs to protect her baby.

Ultimately, Mr. King was signed off as ‘unfit to work’ by his GP in February 2019 and dismissed the following month for unauthorised absences.

In light of this, the tribunal ruled that the claimant’s complaint was not taken seriously, influenced by “relative height” – with the claimant being six feet tall and Jo Francis being a “small pregnant woman”.

Ultimately, Tesco was found to have discriminated against the claimant on grounds of sex by not reasonably investigating the conduct of his line manager and his allegations of intimidation and harassment against her.

Additionally, the respondent subjected the claimant to harassment related to sex by his line manager subjecting him to stay in the room.

The tribunal ruling stated:

We recognise that there has to be a factual basis for ascribing stereotypical views to individuals but in this case there is evidence that they were swayed by an instinct that a big man would not be intimidated by a little woman.

They would not have made that presumption had the claimant been a woman.

As such, Mr. King was awarded £47,690.61 in compensation for harassment related to sex and direct sex discrimination.






Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.