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Costa Coffee to pay €20k for harassment after manager ‘promised to promote staff who could draw male genitalia on flat white’

Labour Court orders coffee chain to pay €20,000 compensation for sexual harassment at work 


(Costa Coffee/PA)

(Costa Coffee/PA)

(Costa Coffee/PA)

A Costa Coffee manager posted a picture of himself in boxer shorts and promised to promote staff who could draw male genitalia on a flat white.

The Labour Court has ordered coffee chain MBCC Foods, trading as Costa Coffee, to pay former barista Shauna Quilty €20,000 compensation for sexual harassment at work.

She was previously awarded €3,500 by a Workplace Relations Commission adjudication officer who found a manager’s behaviour to be in the less serious category of complaints.

Ms Quilty appealed the level of the award.

Employment law solicitor Richard Grogan, who represented Ms Quilty, said the case will have serious implications for employers after the court ordered that a comprehensive sexual harassment policy is put in place.

Ms Quilty, who was 19 at the time and working as a barista in a Costa Coffee store in Belgard in Dublin, made a complaint against her manager and sought a formal investigation.

However, she resigned before the investigation concluded.

She told a hearing that she was attending an office Christmas Party on December 7 2019.

Before going, some colleagues were texting a Facebook Messenger group chat and her manager asked where she was.

She said she did not respond, but the manager then posted a picture of himself in his boxer shorts and asked ‘what about Shauna?’

When she did not reply, he posted ‘I’ve got my Santa panties’. When asked by a colleague who they were for, he replied ‘who takes them wins the prize’.

On December 9, she said the same manager posted a video on the group chat of a male barista drawing male genitalia on a flat white.

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He posted ‘who does this, I’ll promote him to barista maestro straight away with no project’. He then posted, ‘we shall start practising from tomorrow’.

Ms Quilty was on the minimum wage and worked 30 hours a week on average.

Mr Grogan argued that the shop manager clearly had no understanding of sexual harassment and the first response of the employer to her complaint was to suggest she be moved.

Her employer accepted that the actions of the manager could be regarded as falling within the definition of sexual harassment and that it had some responsibility for his actions.

It argued that it acted quickly and the area manager met her in January last year, where she raised the posts and said she was disgusted.

The employer said these matters were not brought to its attention until an email on January 21 last year and questioned a delay of six weeks after the incidents.

The manager was put on suspension and a hearing was arranged.

It said she resigned in February last year and indicated she would be withdrawing her complaints.

Costa Coffee said the investigation proceeded and the manager was demoted from the position of store manager and transferred to a different store.

It said it has engaged a company to provide up to date training for all managers on dignity and respect in the workplace.

The employer argued that the offensive content was not persistent and was sent to a group chat of colleagues, including male colleagues, and was not addressed to Ms Quilty in particular.

Ms Quilty said the delay in raising a complaint about the posts was due to embarrassment. She said she resigned following consultation with her mother and Mr Grogan.

In a new determination, deputy chairman of the court, Tom Geraghty said while the behaviour may not be in the same category as physical assault, it is considerably more than harmless banter.

“What can be said in the instant case is that the complainant has a right to go to work without being subjected to unwanted pictures of her manager in his underwear or childish and offensive representations of male genitalia,” he said.

The court said it was “quite shocked” to note that an employer of this magnitude had no clearly set out policy on sexual harassment at the time.

It ordered the employer to develop a workplace anti-harassment and sexual harassment policy, an anti bullying policy and social media policy.

The court said steps should be taken to ensure that awareness raising and training is in place and policies are communicated to all employees.

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