Funeral directors worker from Blackpool sacked over comments made to female colleagues

A funeral worker made inappropriate remarks to female colleagues – including while one was holding the body of a stillborn, an employment tribunal was told.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 7:44 am

Mike Hartley was sacked by D Hollowell and Sons despite his protestations – and went on to take legal action against the firm claiming wrongful dismissal and gender discrimination.

But judges ruled that, although the parlour’s investigation into his conduct was flawed, he would have still been fired had it been carried out properly.

And they rejected his argument that his job would have been safe if he was a woman.

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Mike Hartley was employed by Blackpool funeral directors D Hollowell and Sons

Mr Hartley, a former NHS HR manager, began working at D Hollowell and Sons as a driver and pallbearer in July 2017 before being promoted a year later to client liaison and HR boss.

In December 2019, a new female colleague lodged a complaint with the company about his behaviour.

The next day, another female colleague complained and said she had been at the firm’s branch in Lytham Road, South Shore, because a dead baby’s parents wanted to sit with her when she asked Mr Hartley to look under the Moses basket for something.

She alleged: “Baby M was in the basket at the time and as I lifted her up, he asked me ‘What am I looking up, your skirt?’”

She also accused him of calling her “Rachel Boobies”.

Mr Hartley was suspended on full pay while a company probe was opened.

An HR firm was brought in and heard a number of other allegations, including that he accused the new worker of "fluttering her eyelashes at him", which he denied, and joked about a white mark on another colleague's clothes being bodily fluids, which he said he had no memory of and also denied.

Mr Hartley, described by another colleague as a “lad’s lad” who liked “banter”, denied misconduct and passed his behaviour off as bad jokes and friendliness.

He argued the complaints against him had been automatically believed because they were made by women and suggested a witch hunt - accusing the firm of being "influenced by the 'me too' movement".

He said he actually said: “Don’t worry, I’m not looking up your skirt”, and meant to say “Rachibobs”.

Mr Hartley was sacked, with the skirt remark deemed misconduct, and unsuccessfully appealed.

He went to an employment tribunal after his appeal to his former bosses was heard by an ex-police officer turned private eye who is married to an employee of D Hollowell and Sons and in business with the firm.

The judges ruled that, despite Mr Hartley’s dismissal being “procedurally unfair”, “there is no remedy as the claimant would have been dismissed anyway” if the appeal had been heard independently.

Gender played no part, they also concluded, added: “Accordingly, the claimant’s claims of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination fail and are dismissed.”

While the judges said there was "insufficient evidence" to uphold the worker's claims of the 'white mark' comment, they said it was "overwhelmingly the case that the claimant had made the 'Rachie boobies' comment and had made inappropriate and disgusting comments to [the worker with the stillborn] in distressing circumstances".

A previous version of this story carried a photograph of a hearse outside Mark FH Rae Funeral Directors in St Annes. The Gazette would like to make it clear that Mark Rae Funeral Directors has no connection with this story.