In the case of PSA v HCPC & Leonard Ren-Yi Yong, the High Court was asked to rule on whether inappropriate comments by Mr Yong were sexually motived.
Mr Ren-Yi Yong was a social worker employed by the London Borough of Lambeth. Mr Yong made a number of inappropriate comments to female colleagues including asking a colleague whether she had ever had a relationship with an older man, saying that a colleagues and her boyfriend must have been “at it like rabbits”, and “the only thing that needs resurrecting around here is my libido”.
HCPC Conduct and Competence Panel
The Health and Care Professions Council’s (HCPC) Conduct and Competence Panel concluded that Mr Yong behaved ‘inappropriately’ but not ‘in a harassing manner’, nor were his actions ‘sexually motivated’.
Professional Standards Authority Appeal
Broadly speaking, the PSA brought an appeal to the High Court on the basis that it was not sufficient for the protection of the public. The PSA argued that Mr Yong’s conduct amounted to ‘harassment’ and was ‘sexually motivated’. The PSA asked the High Court to quash the HCPC decision and substitute it with the aforementioned.
Mr Justice Griffiths was very critical of the HCPC legal assessor’s advice to the committee saying the Committee should have been reminded of its public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010. In the HCPC committee decision, there was no reference to a definition of “harassing behaviour” whereas in section 26 of the Equality Act 2010, a statutory definition is provided, noting also that sex is a protected characteristic under the 2010 Act.
Subsection 4 provides guidance on matters to be considered in assessing harassing behaviour.
Mr Yong did not attend the HCPC committee to give evidence neither did he take any part in the PSA appeal. Mr Justice Griffiths drew inference from this saying: “It seems to me that this unchallenged evidence, coupled with the circumstances of the case, lead irresistibly to the conclusion that Mr Yong had a sexual motivation in saying what he did.
“I therefore consider the Panel’s failure to find a sexual motivation in relation to Mr Yong’s proven misconduct … plainly wrong on the evidence accepted by the Panel. A finding of sexual motivation will be added.”
Mr Justice Griffiths concluded that Mr Yong’s actions were indeed sexually motivated, and the case was remitted to the Conduct and Competence.