Retailer ordered to pay woman harassed about sexuality €8,000

WRC heard male colleague linked mental health issues and child abuse to homosexuality

A retailer has been ordered to pay a former employee €8,000 in compensation after she was found to have been harassed in the workplace about her sexuality. Image: iStock.

A retailer has been ordered to pay a former employee €8,000 in compensation after she was found to have been harassed in the workplace about her sexuality. Image: iStock.

 

A retailer has been ordered to pay a former employee €8,000 in compensation after she was found to have been harassed in the workplace about her sexuality.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) heard that the woman, who is a lesbian, was told by a colleague, Mr A, that she was “not a normal person” and was also asked why she did not want men.

The complainant - who worked for the retailer while in college - alleged Mr A had linked mental health issues to gay people in her presence. She also alleged another colleague had told her that Mr A linked the origin of homosexuality to child abuse.

The worker told the WRC she found these remarks distressing and made a complaint in May of last year to her employer. She was not satisfied with the preliminary investigation in the matter, which upheld two of the four points of her complaint, as she felt she was not believed.

She said she was called a racist and the instigator of the process and that confidentiality around the investigation had been breached. She said she found herself in a hostile environment and asked to sit down with the alleged perpetrator, but he refused to engage.

A final report on the investigation upheld another aspect of her complaint and noted that the woman “was subjected to inappropriate comments” about her sexual orientation by Mr A, which “constitutes a breach in company policies”.

The woman, who was working 31 hours a week and earning €9.35 an hour, resigned from her post on December 4th last after less than a year at the company.

Vacuum

Her trade union submitted that she had been subjected to harassment and discrimination within weeks of commencing employment, and that this arose from a vacuum in training at the firm.

The retailer denied the claims of discrimination and/or harassment and pointed out that Mr A was disciplined as a result of the internal investigation.

Patsy Doyle, a WRC adjudication officer, said she “found evidence of a workplace culture where casual talk on highly personal and sensitive issues was permitted without redirection”. She said the woman was left hurt and humiliated over the words directed towards her.

Ms Doyle found the woman’s employer did discriminate against her in respect of harassment and sexual harassment on the grounds of her sexuality. She directed that the retailer secure a written apology from the man who sexually harassed the woman “for the hurt and humiliation caused to the complainant”.

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