Female gym workers whose boss claimed women shouldn’t be managers because they ‘just ramble on’ win £20,000 payout

  • North Shields tribunal heard Kris Whitelaw said women ‘just go off on a tangent’, are ‘too emotional’ and did not think they should be in gym’s management roles
  • Female employees expressed concern when Mr Whitelaw was put in charge of interview process during company restructure at Stressa Leisure in north east
  • Three men were offered jobs at the fitness clubs after interviews by Mr Whitelaw

Two female gym workers have won almost £20,000 after a gym boss said he would never hire a woman as a manager because they ‘just ramble on’ and are ‘too emotional’.

Kris Whitelaw told Sophie Veitch that women ‘just go off on a tangent’ and said if he was in charge things would be run differently.

An employment tribunal heard Miss Veitch was subjected to ‘sweeping, derogatory’ statements which drew on ‘disparaging stereotypes’.

Gym boss Kris Whitelaw, 36, told his colleague Sophie Veitch at Energie Fitness gym that women ‘just go off on a tangent’ and said if he was in charge things would be run differently 

Mr Whitelaw joined Energie Fitness in 2018 and after just two weeks he told her ‘he did not believe women should be in management positions’.

He went on to claim women ‘just ramble on and are too emotional in meetings’ and they often ‘go off on a tangent.’

He then told the shocked woman he was surprised Managing Director Adam Thompson allowed women to rise through the ranks and said if he was in charge ‘things would be run differently’.

After Miss Veitch, who was a general manager, raised the issue with her superiors they spoke to Mr Whitelaw who ‘categorically’ denied that he had ever made those remarks.

Operations director Andy Evans said Mr Whitelaw had been spoken to about the comments and the situation had been ‘handled.’

In October, following a restructure at Stessa Leisure, which ran Energie Fitness gyms in Blaydon, Tynemouth and Jarrow, all the general managers became redundant and had to reapply for their jobs.

A tribunal in North Shields found that Mr Whitelaw, who joined Energie Fitness two years ago (pictured, gym branch in Blaydon) harassed Ms Veitch by making comments about women in management and by commenting on her appearance on social media in a Facebook message

The staff, including Miss Veitch, were told Mr Whitelaw would be carrying out the interviews.

Female workers raised concerns about this, saying that given Mr Whitelaw’s previous remarks they felt it unlikely they would be given a fair chance.

Another woman Miss Sobihy, who also launched a claim against the company, sent an email to her managers saying: ‘I have decided not to go ahead with an interview with Kris Whitelaw for the following reasons.

‘After his comments that women should not be in charge and he finds it hard to believe how Adam allows women to ‘ramble’ on in meetings I feel that the interview will be discriminated.’

By the end of the week three men had been offered jobs at the clubs. All of them were interviewed and appointed by Mr Whitelaw.

In fact, senior management had already essentially decided that all the general managers were to be made redundant and would no longer continue in their current roles.

Tribunal heard how Mr Whitelaw (pictured) told Ms Veitch ‘he did not believe women should be in management’  because they get too emotional in meetings 2 weeks after he joined the gym

A few days later, Mr Whitelaw sent a Facebook message to Miss Veitch which read: ‘OMG Sophie – just seen the wedding pics! Didn’t realise you could look so stunning-clearly must be a filter – plus Matty is well punching.’

When Miss Veitch raised this text with Mr Evans, Mr Whitelaw – who has since left the company – claimed it was just ‘banter’ and alleged she had taken pictures of his bare legs.

He even threatened to lodge a counter grievance against her for taking such an ‘inappropriate’ picture of him.

A ‘mediation meeting’ took place which left Miss Veitch in tears and during which Mr Evans told her if she escalated the matter to HR ‘things could get messy’.

Eventually she left the company but said it ‘was not the option’ she would liked to have taken.

The tribunal, held in North Shields, Tyne and Wear, concluded: ‘His [Mr Whitelaw’s] comments were unwanted by her and she perceived them as creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her.

‘The comments contained sweeping, derogatory statements about female managers in general* and drew on disparaging stereotypes of women as being “too emotional”.’

Miss Veitch succeeded in her claims of harassment, discrimination and unfair dismissal, although her claim of direct discrimination by way of dismissal and victimisation failed.

The tribunal ruled that Stessa Leisure would have to pay her £13,574.33.

Miss Sobihy succeeded in her claim of harassment but her other complaints of discrimination and victimisation were dismissed.

Stessa Leisure was ordered to pay her the sum of sum of £5,957.54.

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