Monday 17 June 2019

Lesbian worker awarded €8,000 by Workplace Relations Commission after co-worker told her she was 'not normal'

The Workplace Relations Commission
The Workplace Relations Commission

Gordon Deegan

A lesbian worker at a large retailer/service station operator has been awarded €8,000 after a co-worker told her she was “not a normal person” and asked her why she didn’t want men.

In the case before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudication Officer, Patsy Doyle has found the woman’s employer did discriminate against the woman in respect of harassment and sexual harassment on the grounds of her sexuality.

Ms Doyle said that the female was left hurt and humiliated over the words directed towards her by a work colleague Mr A.

Ms Doyle said that she also “found evidence of a workplace culture where casual talk on highly personal and sensitive issues was permitted without redirection”.

Ms Doyle has also directed that the retailer secure a written apology from the man, Mr A who sexually harassed the woman “for the hurt and humiliation caused to the complainant”.

Ms Doyle said: “This, together with the previous sanction (of the €8,000 award) should be presented to the complainant and accepted as closure in the case.”

The retail worker - who was self-funding herself through college - also alleged that Mr A attributed mental health issues to gay people in her presence and also claimed that a colleague told her that Mr A in a conversation linked the origin of homosexuality to child abuse.

The worker told the WRC that she found these remarks distressing and escalated the matter into a complaint in May 2017, citing the 4 incidents of Mr  A telling her that she was not a normal person; asking why didn't want men and also linking mental health issues to gay people and homosexuality to child abuse.

The worker was dissatisfied with the preliminary investigation, which upheld two of the complaints and she felt that she wasn’t believed.

The case in relation to calling the worker 'not a normal person’ was upheld as was Mr A comments linking mental health issues to gay people while alleged comments by Mr A ‘why didn’t the woman want men’ and linking homosexuality to child abuse were not substantiated.

The retail worker said that she felt “shell shocked” on reading the report of the internal preliminary investigation into the four incidents.

The worker said that she was called a racist and instigator of the process and that confidentiality around the process had been breached.

The woman said that she found herself in a hostile environment and asked to sit down with the alleged perpetrator but he refused to engage.

A final internal report on the four incidents also found that the woman was asked why she didn't like men.

The internal report found that the woman “was subjected to inappropriate comments to her sexual orientation from Mr A which constitutes a breach in company policies”.

The woman was working 31 hours a week at the retailer earning €9.35 per hour and resigned from her post on December 4th 2017 - less than one year becoming employed at the company.

The woman’s union submitted that the woman had been subjected to harassment and discrimination within weeks of commencing employment.

The union claimed that this arose directly from a vacuum in training by the employer.

 The union stated that the complainant was exasperated by the investigation and felt that she was blamed which caused her to feel humiliated and degraded and intensified her hostile environment at work.

The retailer refuted all claims of discrimination and/or harassment pointing out that Mr A was disciplined as a result of the internal investigation into the four incidents.

In her investigation, Ms Doyle said that she considered the measures taken by the employer to make all employees aware that harassment/sexual harassment constituted prohibited behaviour at work.

She found that the employer “handled the issue well once reported but I found some shortcomings in the initial stages of the complainant’s employment”.

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