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Stagehand sacked for rant at Royal Opera House

Tribunal judge’s ruling lays bare ‘macho culture’ after staff room clash at historic venue

12 January, 2018 — By William McLennan

The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden

A “PROBLEMATIC macho culture” among staff at the Royal Opera House has been exposed after a stagehand was sacked for allegedly threatening a colleague with a chair during an expletive-laden rant.

The 55-year-old was dismissed from the historic venue in Covent Garden over a dispute with a junior female employee after tempers flared in the staff room, while the stalls were packed for the famous romantic ballet Giselle about love and betrayal.

He took his employers to a tribunal alleging unfair dismissal, but a judge rejected the claim and delivered a ruling that laid bare concerns that “the culture in the technical department was old-fashioned and was still rooted in a white male macho culture”.

The dismissal, according to a hearing at the end of last year, centred on an altercation in the “crew room” in March 2016, in which the man was called a “c**t” by the woman after she overheard him calling another female colleague “fat”. He then approached her with an office chair “raised in a threatening manner,” it was alleged, before “shouting and spitting” at her.

Employment judge Richard Baty said that while the man, who had worked there for nearly three decades, had denied raising the chair, it was “common ground that the incident involved swearing on both sides and that it resulted in [the woman] leaving the crew room in tears in considerable distress”.

The row took place on the evening of March 23 as hundreds watched a performance of Giselle, which was marketed as “the greatest of all Romantic ballets”.

In his judgment, siding with the ROH, Judge Baty said: “Even in an environment where bad language, banter and arguments among colleagues sometimes occurred, this incident stood out as being out of the ordinary.

The tribunal had heard that the ROH had employed a new technical director in late-2015 to try to “address long standing issues of workplace culture” in the technical department which they said “the modern workplace could no longer be”.

At the time there were 128 employees in the “stage area” team, of which only nine were women. The ruling added: “There are a lot of people who have been there a long time and a lot of long-term friendships and family relationships, in other words members of the same family working in that department.”

The ROH said in a statement yesterday: “The Royal Opera House is absolutely committed to the wellbeing of its staff across all parts of the organisation. We have a comprehensive suite of policies in place to ensure that we maintain a harmonious and respectful working environment for all members of staff.”

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