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“Half-Dead Dave” – Banter or age discrimination?

Age Discrimination. So held the Employment Tribunals in David Robson v Clarke’s Mechanical Limited. The Tribunal concluded that R had been subject to direct age discrimination due to R having to endure the nickname of “Half-Dead Dave.” The case was principally about unfair redundancy, however the Tribunal found that R’s age was the effective cause of his selection.


R was a long serving qualified heating engineer employed by the company. He was 69 when he was dismissed.

R was one of 17 heating engineers including 4 supervisors.

In January 2020, the company decided it needed to make some redundancies due to a downturn in work.

Without any warning or consultation R was invited to a meeting and told he was being made redundant. At the time he was the first employee to be dismissed and he wasn’t aware that any other colleagues had been put at risk.

Not surprisingly, R appealed on 29 January rasing questions about pooling and selection. He also suggested that because he was the oldest employee his age might have a bearing in the decision to dismiss him.

On 31 January, the company advertised on its website and in a local paper for a qualified engineer – a role which R was qualified to undertake.

On 17 February R received details of the company’s scoring criteria. Despite two previous meetings with R, the company had not previously mentioned a scoring exercise. R suggested the scoring had been fabricated.

References to Half-Dead Dave

During the course of the evidence, R contended that from 2015 one of the managers referred to him as “Half-Dead Dave” on site. It was a nickname which stuck, with the result that the Tribunal found that colleagues (and R’s manager) continued to use it throughout R’s employment. The manager denied this – instead, suggesting R was referred to as “Disco Dave.”

Tribunal Findings

The company’s redundancy process was so manifestly unfair that it left the door wide-open for R to understandably believe he had been selected for some other reason – in this case his age. As the Tribunal commented, it was an age-related epithet.


If the company had carried out a fair redundancy selection process then there was every chance that R’s nickname would never been in issue. For example, it was accepted that R had never complained about this nickname until his dismissal – he didn’t even mention it to his family.

The Tribunal was less than impressed with the company’s witnesses. It said of the main manager that he was “unapologetic in giving evidence, dismissed it (namely R’s nickname) as mere banter. It was unimportant to him. His unawareness  of that or lack of concern points to a culture in which such “banter” was acceptable.”