Monday 21 October 2019

Former An Post worker's bullying action out of alleged 'gay rumours' has been struck out

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Tim Healy

A former postal sorting worker's High Court bullying action arising out of alleged "gay rumours" has been struck out.

Claire Stephens (56), a married mother who worked in the Galway Mail Sorting Office, claimed the bullying took place over a number of years and culminated in a pornographic postcard being left on her sorting bench. 

She said she became distressed by innuendo and rumours in her workplace and circulated a letter to her colleagues saying she was having suicidal thoughts.

The case was due to resume on Thursday when Mr Justice Charles Meenan was told by Marguerite Bolger SC, for An Post, Ms Stephens was in Galway where she may be seeking medical attention.

Lorraine Lally BL, for Ms Stephens, later told the judge her client had asked that the case be struck out with no order. 

Ms Stephens had been under cross examination on Wednesday when she became upset while being questioned about what she referred to a "suicide note" she left on her co-workers benches.  

Counsel put it to her that she was trying to mislead the company about her suicide threat because she told a counsellor she would withdraw the threat. She said she did so because the counsellor was looking for details of her GP and medical history and if she had given that, she would have been put in hospital.

She did not want to go into hospital.  "I had not told my husband anything, I just wanted to die, I wasn't going into hospital, it would have been my worst nightmare".

After the case was adjourned briefly because of her upset, Mr Justice Charles Meenan was told the matter could be adjourned until Thursday by agreement between the parties.

The case had been listed for hearing for three weeks. Mr Justice Meenan granted the strike out request.

Ms Stephens claimed An Post failed to deal with properly with her complaint of bullying which she said peaked with the postcard incident. 

The company denied her claims. It accepted the postcard incident happened but says the offender was dealt with under the company disciplinary policy. 

Ms Stephens said her problems started in 2006 after a female colleague attempted to kiss her in the staff toilets.

There followed a number of other touching incidents and "gay rumours" about her over the years until 2012, when a young male co-worker came to her bench and left down a postcard of a woman's vagina with two fingers in it.

In subsequent days, she said she heard "a lot of skitting and laughing".

She made a formal complaint in March 2013. Her supervisor later told her he had had a talk with the young man involved in the postcard incident and he was sorry for what he did. She claimed this was "no more than a pep talk" and not in accordance with the company's dignity at work policy. 

She said she lost half a stone in weight, was unable to sleep and started going around to her colleagues saying she was suicidal. 

She also photocopied  "a suicide note" and left it on colleagues' work benches.

The court heard that in an internal review of her case in 2014, none of her fellow workers corroborated any of her complaints other than two who heard about the postcard incident. She said they "were never asked".

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