A hotel has been ordered to pay €20,000 to a victim of workplace sexual harassment after the alleged perpetrator was allowed to retire or leave without a “full and complete” investigation.
Upholding a complaint of gender-based discrimination under the Employment Equality Act 1998, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found Nadine Harty was subjected to “serious sexual harassment amounting to assault” while working at the Greenway Manor Hotel in Co Waterford between June and November 2021 and that its management, Causeway Hospitality Ltd, was liable.
The WRC heard that after Ms Harty complained, the hotel owners “kept the matter under review” for nearly four months before she had reason to make a further complaint. The alleged perpetrator and a company director then “decided at age 66 it was time for him [the perpetrator] to retire or leave”.
In evidence, Ms Harty said the hotel’s then-executive chef, identified only as “Mr M” in a published decision, “started behaving badly” towards her with “inappropriate lewd comments” after she started in the kitchen as a prep chef on June 29th, 2021.
His behaviour escalated to blowing in her ear and grabbing her “around the waist and wrists” – and once biting her on the shoulder, Ms Harty said. She told the tribunal she raised the matter informally with her line manager, “Mr B”, the hotel’s head chef, before putting her complaint in writing at the end of July 2021.
A company director who gave evidence to the hearing said “Mr B” denied any knowledge of the allegations and said that he “had not witnessed anything” when they discussed the written complaint. The men then “decided to monitor the situation and keep it under review”, with “Mr B” to “take a proactive role in the management of kitchen staff” and Ms Harty’s work station to be “a significant distance away” from that of “Mr M”, the witness said.
The alleged perpetrator was “taken aback” by the allegations and made denials, the company director said. The director said he asked “Mr M” to “stay away” from Ms Harty.
After she made a further complaint in November 2021, he met the alleged perpetrator again. In his evidence, the company director said he and “Mr M” decided that, at age 66, it was time for “Mr M” to “retire or leave the employment”.
“The result was that Mr M left,” the company director said.
Ms Harty’s evidence was that she was “eventually” told the alleged perpetrator was “gone, not that any action was take against him, but he was just ‘gone’,” she said.
Ms Harty’s barrister, Alan Crann, said that despite “numerous complaints” by his client, “the matter was not addressed”, leaving her “no alternative but to resign”.
Shaun Boylan, appearing for the hotel, said the management took Ms Harty “seriously” when she wrote to them in July 2021 stating “I hope this all can be sorted quietly”.
Mr Boylan said the company had approached the matter “informally as per [its] policies and procedures”.
“The respondent did not ignore the matter ... Not only were the issues not tolerated or condoned, but the complainant was aware of the actions taken by the respondent,” Mr Boylan said.
In her decision, adjudicating officer Gaye Cunningham wrote that the “inappropriate touching and physical contact and comments of a sexually explicit and suggestive nature visited upon her by [Mr M] had the effect of violating her dignity and creating an intimidating and degrading environment” for Ms Harty.
The hotel “was not in a position to dispute the actual occurrences of the alleged incidents of harassment and sexual harassment as it did not carry out a full and complete investigation” and “failed to put appropriate measures in place to stop this harassment and sexual harassment from occurring or to reverse its effects”, she wrote.
Ms Cunningham noted that the management had spoken to the man and “endeavoured to keep the parties apart”.
“However, I am struck by the fact that no one appears to have consulted with the complainant, who had been subjected to such serious inappropriate sexual harassment amounting to assault,” she wrote.
Upholding a finding of discrimination on the ground of gender, Ms Cunningham said it was reasonable for Ms Harty to have quit as she had suffered “humiliation and degradation” because of how she was treated. She ordered the hotel to pay the complainant €20,000 in compensation.