A female college lecturer who was told male students “would do her” in one of a number of incidents of sexual harassment has been awarded €10,000.
Louise Walsh took a case to the Labour Court which has now ordered her employer Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) to pay the compensation for not doing enough to prevent the sexual harassment of the academic by male agricultural science students.
Chairman of the Labour Court, Kevin Foley ordered the college to pay Ms Walsh compensation for "the distress and the effects of sexual harassment and harassment based on her gender".
Ms Walsh told the Labour Court how she had been sexually harassed by a large group of male students in her class on various dates between October 10th 2014 and March 19th 2015.
In one incident on October 24th 2014, Ms Walsh said she had been subjected to comments about how the male students “would do her”.
She informed the Head of Department of this experience and advised her that the behaviour had the purpose and effect of violating her dignity and creating an intimidating and hostile working environment.
On the same day, Ms Walsh said male students in her class blurted out inappropriate sexual references and sexual language including coarse words referring to parts of a woman’s body and references to sexual acts.
On October 10th 2014 she notified WIT that she had been sexually harassed by a large group of male students in her class.
She told the Labour Court she had been asked explicitly, coarse sexual questions and, in addition, various disgusting and explicit comments were made about male genitalia.
On November 9th 2014, Ms Walsh advised WIT that the disruption in class continued and WIT subsequently split the class.
Ms Walsh claimed that the college took no adequate steps to ensure that sexual harassment, harassment and bullying did not take place in her workplace.
Ms Walsh stopped teaching the group of students in March 2015 but the Waterford native who has lectured since 1999 continues to lecture at the college.
Contested the claim
The Institute of Technology contested the claim and told the Labour Court it took all practicable steps to avoid the occurrence of sexual harassment or harassment based on gender in her case.
However, Mr Foley said the court was satisfied WIT is liable for the sexual harassment and the harassment suffered by Ms Walsh on grounds of her gender.
Mr Foley stated that while WIT did take steps in response to Ms Walsh’s complaint, it “cannot be found to have taken such steps as were reasonably practicable to avoid a recurrence of sexual harassment and harassment based on gender”.
Mr Foley stated that the Head of Department, course leaders and the then president of the student’s union spoke to the class concerned.
He stated: “No evidence has been put before the court which established that the issue of sexual harassment and harassment based on gender were specifically raised during any of these interactions with the class.”
As part of his order, Mr Foley has ordered WIT to review the operation of its Dignity and Respect policy and in particular the effectiveness of arrangements in place to communicate the policy to students and, as part of those arrangements, to communicate WIT’s intolerance of sexual harassment and harassment based on gender.
The Labour Court has also ordered WIT to review the effectiveness of arrangements in place to respond to complaints made by teaching staff of sexual harassment and harassment by students, including where the identity of individuals involved is not known to the victim.
Commenting on the case on Thursday, Ms Walsh said the Labour Court ruling has vindicated her decision to take the case.She described her over-riding emotion as one of “relief”.
In a statement on Thursday, WIT said it “is committed to providing a safe working environment to all employees and takes this matter very seriously”. It said it was now taking time to reflect on the Labour Court’s decision.
“At this juncture we are taking the time to reflect on the decision of the Labour Court and continue to work with staff and their representatives in the monitoring and review of our policies and procedures to ensure that such an environment is free of all forms of bullying, harassment and discrimination.”