BURTON Albion has won an employment tribunal brought by a former employee who claimed she was a victim of sexual discrimination, harassment and constructive dismissal.
Ex-admin employee Kerry Miller had alleged she was mistreated during the 18 months she worked at the Pirelli Stadium, claiming she was warned to stay away from players with no reason.
But after the panel heard that she frequently went into the changing rooms and exchanged sexually explicit texts with one of the players, they dismissed all the allegations made against the club.
Employment Judge Saleem Ahmed said the 45-year-old was ‘the author of her own misfortune’, as she persisted in inappropriate behaviour which led to concerns from the club.
Judge Ahmed said: “It was a concern that she was seeking every opportunity to be close to the players.
“Mr (Ben) Robinson was aware of her going into the changing rooms; he was aware she was serving food to the players; he was aware she had been seeing a player who had recently left the team; he was aware of her exchanging phone numbers with a professional footballer and she was regarded as being over-friendly with sponsors.
“She was seen by the chairman as someone trying to form some sort of relationship with the players, and he regarded that as a detriment to the team and the club.
“The reason for his treatment of the claimant was, therefore, her behaviour and her conduct, and that is a non-discriminatory reason.”
Ms Miller, who now works as a beauty therapist, admitted to having a sexual relationship with former defender Ryan Austin. She also confirmed she had swapped lewd photos with striker Billy Kee after a night out. She said she asked him to delete them the following day, but instead he showed them around his team mates.
Mr Kee said Ms Miller did not gain a racy reputation among the players, but agreed the players would wolf-whistle and cat call when she was nearby.
Team boss Gary Rowett told the tribunal she would often be flirtatious with players when she saw them around the club, adding that it made him and some of the squad ‘uncomfortable’ when she went into the changing rooms.
“In 24 years as a footballer, coach and manager, I have never been aware of a woman in the dressing rooms.
“As a male, I would never walk into a female dressing room, regardless of what I wanted.”
Ms Miller was asked not to go into the changing rooms after Mr Rowett raised the issue with her manager, Fleur Robinson. She was also asked to stop serving players food, as she claimed she was asked to do by the chef. She said she ceased both actions as soon as she was spoken to.
“Whenever I was asked not to do something, I never did it again, but I was never told I could not do it in the first place,” she said.
Ms Miller, a widowed mother of three, resigned last February after two run-ins with club chairman Ben Robinson when he challenged her about spending time in the kitchen.
She said: “I don’t think my actions were so dreadful to justify the way he spoke to me.
“I wasn’t sure what his issue was with me, but I knew I’d had enough of being treated that way and humiliated. It was about how he was with me.
“I was 44, and I had never been spoken to that way in my life.”
Judge Ahmed said she ‘overreacted’ by walking out, adding that her distress could not have been too great, as she arranged a meeting shortly after her resignation to discuss returning to work.
He added that he could understand her being upset by some of the allegations.
Mr Robinson denied speaking to Miss Miller harshly or mistreating her, claiming he was only concerned that she should get on with her own job and stop ‘distracting’ players. The ex-employee was not disciplined for any of her alleged misdemeanours during her employment.
Mr Robinson said bosses instead ‘hoped she would see the light of day’, and alter her behaviour.
A club statement issued after the tribunal said: “As soon as the club became aware of these matter we took action. The club has always felt it has acted correctly in its actions towards Ms Miller, and therefore took the decision to defend the proceedings.
“We are pleased that the tribunal has accepted that we did not act improperly. As a club, we have an excellent relationship with staff.”