Costa Coffee ordered to pay €20,000 in sexual harassment case

Labour Court chairman says behaviour was ‘considerably more than harmless banter ’

A Costa Coffee manager sexually harassed a 19-year-old female co-worker when he circulated a video of a male barista drawing male genitalia on a flat white, according to the Labour Court.

In the post on a staff Facebook messenger group, the Costa Coffee in Belgard manager told his colleagues that "who does this, I'll promote him to Barista Maestro straight away with no project".

This was two days after the manager posted a photo of himself on December 7th, 2019 to the same staff group in his boxer shorts, or what he called “Santa Panties”, before the staff Christmas party.

The Labour Court has ordered the Irish operator of Costa Coffee, MBCC Foods Ireland Ltd to pay the worker, Shauna Quilty, €20,000 compensation for the sexual harassment endured.


Ms Quilty's solicitor, Richard Grogan, on Friday described the Labour Court ruling as "ground-breaking".


The award is more than five times the €3,500 Ms Quilty was awarded by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), and the case came before the Labour Court after Ms Quilty appealed the quantum of the award.

Mr Grogan told the court that during the first incident the Costa Coffee manager posted a photo of himself in his boxer shorts and asked “what about Shauna?” when she hadn’ t replied to an earlier query asking where she was.

When asked by another colleague what his “Santa Panties” were for, he replied, “who takes them wins the prize”.

In its findings, Labour Court chairman Tom Geraghty said that Ms Quilty "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".

“While the nature of such offensive behaviour may not be in the same category as physical assault, it is considerably more than harmless banter and the Court does not concur with the view of the Adjudication Officer [at the WRC] that the acts fall into the lowest category of misbehaviour,” he said.

Mr Geraghty noted that the manager was suspended from work at an early stage, his behaviour was investigated and, as a result, a penalty was imposed on him.

Mr Geraghty said that a defence to alleged sexual harassment under the Employment Equality Act was not available to Costa Coffee “because of their failure to take any real steps in advance to protect the complainant from the harassment that she suffered”.

Mr Geraghty said that the court was left to consider a situation that was “more than just poor behaviour by an individual”.

He later added that the court could not ignore the fact that Costa Coffee’s failures resulted in inadequate protections for Ms Quilty.

He said that there was “almost inexplicable inadequacies” in Costa Coffee’s preventative procedures.

As part of its order, the Labour Court ordered Costa Coffee to develop a workplace anti-harassment and sexual harassment policy and develop an appropriate social media policy.

Mr Geraghty said that the court noted with approval that the coffee retailer had taken some steps to address its deficiencies in this regard.


Mr Geraghty also said that it was “extraordinarily unsatisfactory” that a social media platform used by employees of Costa Coffee for work purposes was not covered by a social media policy that expressly set out a prohibition on the type of sexual harassment to which Ms Quilty was subjected to.

“This failure, again, heightens the sense that while the behaviour of an individual employee gave rise to the complaint, the respondent bears significant responsibility for what occurred,” he said.

Mr Grogan said that sexual harassment in the workplace was “an egregious breach of employment rights”.

Mr Grogan described the Costa manager sending the photo of himself in his boxer shorts and the video as “highly offensive”.

MBCC Foods Ireland Ltd trading as Costa Coffee has been contacted for comment.

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times