Maximum Award Made in Sexual Harassment Case

The Equality Authority has welcomed the significant award made by the Equality Tribunal in a case of sexual harassment and victimisation. The Equality Authority represented the claimant in the case of Ms A vs. A Contract Cleaning Company. The complainant was awarded €21,000, the equivalent of 104 weeks salary which is the maximum allowed under the Employment Equality Acts. The Equality Officer of the Equality Tribunal stated in his decision that he felt “constrained by the statute in the level of compensation which I could order and had that constraint not been placed upon me I would have ordered a significantly higher award given the severity of the treatment to which the complainant was subjected to”.

The complainant worked as a cleaner with the respondent and was assigned cleaning duties at a shopping centre. The harasser worked for another company as a security guard at the shopping centre.

The complaint of sexual harassment was accompanied by a complaint of victimisation. The complaint involved:-

  • The harasser making crude and sexually offensive remarks to her and her female colleagues;
  • The harasser pushing her into the staff canteen, pulling down her trousers and underwear and smacking her on the bottom. This was witnessed by the company supervisor who said the harasser was only “messing” and “it was only a joke”;
  • The complainant reported the incident to the Gardaí. She raised the matter with the respondent’s Regional Manager who told her the matter had nothing to do with the respondent and to take the matter up with the harasser’s employer, which she did;
  • The complainant experienced the “cold shoulder” from some of her colleagues, and her working relationship with them, which had previously been good, deteriorated;
  • The complainant was threatened with dismissal if she did not drop her complaint to the Gardaí and was persuaded her to drop the complaint; and
  • She was subjected to the respondent’s internal disciplinary procedure during which the previous incident of sexual harassment was discussed and where her supervisor inferred to those participating in the disciplinary procedure that the complainant was lying about the incident.

The Equality Officer found that the complainant was sexually harassed, that the respondent did not take steps as were reasonably practicable after the complainant reported the incident and that the actions of the respondent after the incident constituted victimisation of the complainant.

Niall Crowley, Chief Executive of the Equality Authority highlighted “the importance of this case in establishing the serious nature of sexual harassment and of victimisation. It sets a standard in making the maximum award which is not only proportionate but also dissuasive. Last year 12% of the casefiles of the Equality Authority under the Employment Equality Acts related to claims of sexual harassment and harassment. Awards of this scale establish the context necessary for a new culture of compliance with equality legislation in the workplace. This is crucial if we are to be successful in eliminating sexual harassment and the damaging and distressful impact these have on those subjected to it”.

He continued that “the case established the inappropriateness of the respondent’s reactions to the incident, the flawed manner in which the respondent abdicated responsibility for the issue to the harasser’s employer and the flawed nature of the investigation conducted by the employer of the harasser. There is a clear message to employers in this regard to ensure that they have adequate policies and procedures in place to prevent sexual harassment and to deal effectively with any incidents occurring. These procedures must be adequate to dealing with sexual harassment not only by another employee or by the employer, but also by other clients, customers or business contacts of an employer including any other person with whom the employer might reasonably expect the victim to come into contact”.

He highlighted “the courage and conviction displayed by the complainant in taking this important case. She faced ridicule, isolation, pressure and victimisation. The case took a number of years to come to a conclusion. Yet she has achieved an outcome that not only vindicates her courage and conviction but that serves as a significant deterrent to employers allowing such a situation to emerge again”.

Ends

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