Wednesday 23 October 2019

Postal worker sues over bullying involving 'gay rumours' after female colleague attempted to kiss her in the staff toilets

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Stock image

Tim Healy

A former postal sorting worker has told the High Court An Post failed to deal with bullying by colleagues involving "gay rumours" being circulated about her.

Claire Stephens (56), a married mother who worked in the Galway Mail Sorting Office, claims 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 so distressed by innuendo and rumours in her workplace and circulated a letter to her colleagues saying she was having suicidal thoughts.

She is suing An Post for personal injuries arising out of alleged bullying which she says the company failed to deal with properly. 

An Post denies her claims. It accepts the postcard incident happened but says the offender was dealt with under the company disciplinary policy. 

She was dismissed in 2016 and brought a separate case to the Labour Court for unfair dismissal which was rejected and is currently being appealed.

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

The woman claimed it was a joke when she saw her reaction. 

Ms Stephens said she had never met a lesbian before but despite the claim it was joke, the colleague later kept coming over to her bench for a time afterwards.

Another woman who joined the workforce later on "seemed to pick up that I had a problem with making eye contact" and "always seemed to be whispering" to others and looking to her, she said. 

In 2008, this woman started hitting off her "with her boobs" each time she came over to Ms Stephens' bench.

"She (the co-worker) was very slim and small and she had to make a lot of effort to do that to me", she said.

The same woman tossed her hair on another occasion. On another, after some letters fell beside Ms Stephens' bench, "she purposely put her hand on my knee and started rubbing it. I had to run away".

The "final straw" was when the woman was admiring a necklace Ms Stephens was wearing and she "rubbed her arm up and down against my breast.  I felt I was sexually assaulted".

In 2012, on the night shift, a young male co-worker came to her bench and left a postcard.  It showed a picture of a woman's vagina with two fingers inserted into it. There were also words including something about someone "practising the gay dash lick", she said.

She said nothing but was worried people would say she was "a dry old bitch and he was a young man having a laugh".

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

She rang the human resources department about the incident but for five weeks nothing happened, she said.

The laughing and joking continued with one male co-worker singing "Pussy Cat Pussy Cat where are you" and asking her "are you anything to Pussy...I mean...Cat Stevens".

In another incident, male colleagues started talking about the length of her fingers and whether they were bent, a reference she believed to the fingers in the postcard.

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 but she claimed this was "no more than  a pep talk". 

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 letter she described as "a suicide note" and left it on colleagues work benches.  She said there have been two suicides in the Galway Mail Centre.

After meeting the company counsellor, who sought details of her GP so he could check her medical history, she withdrew her threat of suicide because she believed she would be sent to hospital if she did not do so. 

Under cross examination by  Marguerite Bolger SC, for An Post, she agreed 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.  But, she said, they "were never asked".

The case continues before Mr Justice Charles Meenan.

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