Ruling

07734-22 Gleeson v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      13th October 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 07734-22 Gleeson v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. Eileen Gleeson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Nurse, 58, sues Royal British Legion for age discrimination after colleagues sent her birthday card saying 'It's not about age, it's about attitude'”, published on 15 June 2021.

2. The article reported that the complainant had taken the Royal British Legion to an Employment Tribunal claiming “victimisation, age discrimination and unfair dismissal”. It reported that the complainant had sued her former employer for discrimination after her colleagues gave her a birthday card which depicted an “elderly woman riding a motorbike with the words ‘it’s not about age, it’s about attitude’”. It reported that the complainant lost her claim after a judge ruled that “in the context” making a reference to someone’s age was not discriminatory, with the tribunal hearing that she never raised the issue of the card throughout the rest of her employment. The article reported that the tribunal had heard “instead, over the next few months the work gradually began to get on top of [her and] her managers become concerned about her performance”. It reported further that the judge found it was her “lack of cooperation and her refusal to communicate with her manager which caused the ongoing difficulties and ultimately led to the termination” of her contract with the organisation. It also stated that “she was having difficulties dealing with clients and failing to keep accurate records”. It stated that following the judgment, the complainant said the card was “insulting”, “despicable” and “very unprofessional”, and that “the fact that we were all nurses and should be caring [for] people made it quite shocking”. Immediately after this quote, the article reported the complainant saying, “It was probably the most traumatic experience I have gone through”.

3. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant, captioned “Ellie Gleeson (pictured) said she was insulted when her colleagues sent her a birthday card which showed a pensioner riding a motorbike and took her employer to a tribunal”.

4. The complainant said the article was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), because it gave a misleading account of her tribunal. She said that the focus on the card misrepresented her case. She said that the age discrimination aspect of her claim related to being excluded from training which younger colleagues had been permitted to attend; she had been unable to obtain critical evidence to support this claim from her employer, so the birthday card had been produced as evidence because it was ageist. Her comment that it was “probably the most traumatic experience I have gone through” also contributed to this misleading impression; this comment to the reporter had not related to the card but rather the harassment she had received over a period of time at work.

5. She also denied that her claim concerned “victimisation, age discrimination and unfair dismissal”; instead, it related to the statutory right to be accompanied to a meeting, less favourable treatment as a part-time worker, harassment, age discrimination and outstanding holiday pay.

6. In addition, she denied that work had got “on top” of her or that she had been “having difficulties with clients and failing to keep accurate records”. Further, she said that the caption of the photograph incorrectly referred to her as “Ellie”.

7. The complainant also expressed concern that a reporter had approached her for comment following the tribunal at her home address. She said that this approach, and the publication of the photograph, breached her privacy under Clause 2 (Privacy).

8. She also said that the article was discriminatory in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) by its focus on the birthday card and, by extension, her age.

9. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. The copy had been supplied by a news agency, and published in good faith. It said that the article was an accurate report of the complainant’s employment tribunal. It said that it was entitled to focus on specific aspects of the case, and the birthday card addressed the element of the tribunal with greatest public interest: changes in contemporary workplace interactions and what people consider to be offensive. Notwithstanding this, the publication said that, in response to the complaint, it was willing to adopt the complainant’s position that her comment to the reporter about the trauma she had endured had been in reference to the harassment she had received over a period of time at work, rather than the birthday card. Though the publication did not consider that the presentation of these comments rendered the article inaccurate or misleading, it offered, in an effort to resolve the matter, to remove the disputed comments and to publish the following footnote clarification:

“In a previous version of this article we included excepts from an interview with Ms Gleeson, a section of which has since been removed. Ms Gleeson would like to clarify that her comment this was 'the most traumatic experience I have gone through' was intended to refer to the entirety of her tribunal case, and not solely her complaint about the birthday card. We are happy to make this clear”.

10. The publication said that the judgment made clear the complainant’s claims related to "Age Discrimination, Victimisation, Part Time Worker Regulations, Unfair Dismissal and Holiday Pay”; it was entitled to focus upon the discrimination aspect of the case, and this focus did not render the article inaccurate or misleading. Notwithstanding this, the publication also offered, in an effort to resolve the matter, to amend the article to make clear that her claims also included “unfavourable treatment” and “holiday pay”.

11. In addition, the publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate to report that work had got “on top” of the complainant or that she had experienced “difficulties with clients and failing to keep accurate records”. It was entitled to characterise the concerns made by her former employers in the way it did, and it had a sufficient basis to do so.

12. With regards to the caption of the photograph, the publication accepted that it had misspelt the complainant’s name. However, the publication did not accept that this represented a significant inaccuracy as the complainant was correctly identified throughout the rest of the article. Nonetheless, the newspaper offered to correct this error.

13. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2. The reporter had approached the complainant for comment at her home address; had been invited inside the complainant’s home to complete the interview; and been supplied with the published image for use in the article the following day via email.

14. Finally, the publication did not accept a breach of Clause 12. The article did not include any prejudicial or pejorative references to the complainant’s protected characteristic.

15. The complainant said that the proposed amendments to the online article did not resolve her complaint. The matter was passed to the Complaints Committee.

Relevant Code Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

16. The article reported on the complainant’s claims before the Employment Tribunal. While the Committee noted the complainant’s concerns about the focus of the article, the selection and sourcing of material is a matter of editorial discretion, as long as the publication of material does not otherwise breach the Editors’ Code. The article had reported the complainant’s claims as being victimisation, age discrimination and unfair dismissal and it was not in dispute that the birthday card, which had a comment about age, had formed part of the complainant’s evidence for her discrimination claim and was subject to a ruling made by the judge. In circumstances where the text of the article made clear that it was not the sole concern raised by the complainant against her former employer, the Committee did not consider that the article’s focus on the birthday card rendered the article inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

17. Similarly, the Committee did not consider that the omission of the details of each specific claim made by the complainant against her former employer rendered the article inaccurate or misleading; as noted above, the article included an accurate summary of her claims in broad terms. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

18. The Committee then considered the complainant’s concerns that her comments to reporter had been misrepresented. The complainant denied that her comment “it was probably the most traumatic experience [she had] gone through” was made in relation to the birthday card – as she claimed the article suggested – but rather to the harassment she said she had experience from her employer over a period of time. In circumstances where it was not in dispute that the complainant had described receiving the card as “insulting”, despicable”, “very unprofessional” and “shocking”, the Committee did not consider that the manner in which this comment had been included in the article rendered it significantly inaccurate or misleading as to the complainant’s position. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

19. The Committee then considered whether the article had reported inaccurately that work got “on top” of the complainant and that she had experienced “difficulties with clients and failing to keep accurate records”. The Committee noted that the article made clear that the tribunal “heard” these claims, which was not in dispute. Further, in circumstances where the Employment Tribunal stated that her former employer had “genuine and legitimate concerns about the [complainant’s] practice as an Admiral Nurse […] in particular her abilities in dealing with clients; in identifying issues that an Admiral nurse should deal with, and in her record keeping”; and where concerns regarding the management of her case work had been raised `by her employer, the Committee did not consider that the article was inaccurate or misleading on these points. There was no breach of Clause 1.

20. The Committee did not consider that misnaming the complainant represented a significant inaccuracy, particularly in circumstances where the error had appeared besides a photograph of her and her correctly spelt, full name had been included within the sub-headline and throughout the text of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1.

21. The Committee next considered the concerns raised under Clause 2. This Clause is designed to ensure that an individual’s private life is respected. The complainant said that the newspaper had intruded into her privacy through its approach to her for comment and in its use of a photograph of her. The Committee did not consider that the approach made by the reporter, which resulted in the complainant consenting to an interview and inviting the journalist inside her home, represented an intrusion into her private life. In addition, where the photograph had been provided freely by the complainant to the reporter following the conclusion of the interview, the publication was entitled to consider that the complainant had consented to the publication of this image. It also noted that the photograph showed the complainant’s likeness; it did not reveal any further private information about her or show her engaged in any private activity. As such, the Committee could not find that the publication of this photograph constituted an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

22. The terms of Clause 12 state that publications must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s protected characteristic. There is no reference to “age” in this Clause. As such, the terms of Clause 12 were not engaged by the complainant’s concerns.

23. While the Committee did not find a breach of the Editors’ Code, it welcomed the steps taken by the publication to resolve the matter.

Conclusion(s)

24. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

25. N/A

Date complaint received: 12/04/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 27/09/2022