Equality Authority Welcomes Significant Award in Sexual Harassment Case

The Equality Authority today welcomed a significant award in a case taken by its client Pauline Stone vs I. Moloney and Sons Ltd and the awarding of compensation in excess of 54,000 euros. ‘The case is important not only that it awards the maximum compensation allowable to Ms Stone for sexual harassment, but in addition awards the same amount again for victimisation and subsequent victimisatory dismissal’ stated the Equality Authority.

Background:

Ms Stone claimed to the Equality Tribunal in March 2009, that she had been discriminated against in terms of conditions of employment, sexual harassment and discriminatory dismissal. No submission was made by the respondent at that stage to the Tribunal.

Ms Stone claimed that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by Mr A, a director of the respondent contrary to S. 14A of the Employment Equality Acts. Ms Stone complained of the offensive behaviour which included inappropriate physical contact and remarks of a sexual nature. Ms Stone tried to get Mr A to stop the behaviour and she then complained to management. The regional manager held a meeting where it was agreed that Mr A would issue a written apology. The letter produced was ‘vague and unsatisfactory’ and the harassment continued and intensified.

After she had complained of the harassment, her working hours, paid at the minimum wage rate, were cut from 40 hours per week to 24.5 hours per week, later restored to 31 hours per week. Her son’s hours at the same employment, were also cut. Two more staff members were taken on the week the hours were cut. Ms Stone later went out on sick leave and was not paid. Later, Ms Stone resigned contending that this was discriminatory constructive dismissal.

Ms Stone waived expressly her rights to anonymity. She worked in a petrol forecourt and small supermarket store from March 2007 in Ballyshannon. Mr A did give evidence denying the interpretation of his repeated remarks which the Tribunal did not find credible on this point. Mr A did not offer any defence to the physical contact evidence nor the comment to Ms Stone’s son about his Mother’s underwear.

The Equality Officer found that ‘the respondent company is liable for Mr A’s actions’. The franchise company of which I. Moloney & Sons is a retailer, submitted its employee handbook and contract of employment which may be said to be ‘models of good employment practice’. However he noted, it is not part of the franchise agreement that it is mandatory for retailers to adopt these documents in employment practice. The copy of the employment contract submitted relating to Ms Stone was unsigned. Ms Stone submitted she had not seen these documents.

Ms Stone noted ‘since most of the businesses in Ballyshannon were owned by Mr A’ , she felt it would be very difficult to secure alternative employment. Ms Stone has not worked since her employment relationship with I Moloney & Sons has ended.

In relation to victimisation, The Equality Officer stated ‘I am guided in this by Ms Stone’s credible descriptions of Mr A’s raging moods and his own comments in cross examination regarding his previous conviction for assault’.

The Equality Authority which represented Ms Stone is concerned that ‘many years after the passing of legislation protecting workers from being sexually harassed in their employment, cases such as this can still come to light. The decision by the Equality Tribunal is welcome in that it awards compensation at the maximum for the serious level of sexual harassment and subsequent victimisation endured by Ms Stone in the course of her employment’.

The Authority added ‘Sexual harassment is toxic in the workplace and has a negative impact on the wider workplace who wintess the serious discrimination endured by Ms Stone. Such conduct negatively impacts on individuals and ensures that workplaces operate in an intimidatory environment at a time of economic challenge when maximum productivity should be the primary objective. Our actions in supporting Ms Stone’s convincing case are a strong signal that sexual harassment is totally unacceptable for any worker and is a toxin that impedes productivity in a time when many businesses struggle to survive’ concluded the Equality Authority.

The Equality Authority has earlier this year updated its Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment and has submitted it to the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs for his sanction.

The Equality Authority acts as a ‘prosecuter’ in cases under the Employment Equality Acts and the Equal Status Acts (www.equality.ie). The Equality Tribunal is a different body which adjudicates on complaints. Case reference: Pauline Stone -v- Director I Moloney & sons Ltd. at www.equalitytribunal.ie

Ends

  • Facebook Share Icon
  • Twitter Share Icon