From the first day in June 2008 when she started work in B&Q Ireland, Ms A, as she has been identified by the Equality Tribunal, felt victimised.
According to the account of proceedings published by the tribunal, Ms A, who was 17 when she started in B&Q in Naas, was told by her human resources manager and her supervisor not to speak to her mother, who worked as a cashier in the store.
Shortly afterwards, two supervisors, whom the tribunal identified as Mr B and Mr C, began making inappropriate comments to her, such as: “You are only letting on to be a little Virgin Mary to your mammy. We know what you really are”, and “You are nothing but a little hypocrite, you little Virgin Mary”.
The pair allegedly asked her whether she was a virgin, whether she was sleeping with her partner and whether she was performing oral sex.
Ms A’s mother also told the tribunal the two men would make inappropriate sexual remarks about her daughter to her on the shop floor, saying she would return from her holidays pregnant.
On January 15th, 2010, leaving drinks were organised for a member of staff who was being transferred to another store.
The tribunal heard evidence that the behaviour of Mr B towards Ms A “descended into extreme inappropriateness, starting with explicit remarks involving the mechanics of sexual intercourse, and questioning the complainant as to whether she had intercourse with a specific named man, followed by attempts to force the complainant’s legs apart while pushing his body on to her.” Mr B did this twice.
When she reported the incident, her manager’s initial response was that it happened outside work and could not be dealt with internally, but Ms A was able to state that B&Q Ireland’s policies did allow for an investigation.
In evidence to the tribunal, B&Q Ireland accepted the incident had taken place, but denied otherwise discriminating against Ms A. The tribunal found the evidence against Mr C to be inconclusive.
An investigation was carried out into Mr B’s conduct. He was suspended and then demoted.
Ms A signed off work after hearing Mr B would be returning following suspension. She was offered mediation between herself and Mr B by the company but turned it down, eventually resigning in October 2010.
Tribunal officer Stephen Bonnlander found B&Q Ireland had gone about investigating Ms A's complaint with "professionalism and integrity" but the measures they took to deal with it were "inappropriate and insufficient".
He criticised B&Q Ireland’s failure to transfer Mr B to a different store given that the company had several within the greater Dublin area.
“Nothing would have prevented the respondent from erring on the side of caution and separating Ms A and Mr B altogether in terms of their employment,” he stated.
Both mother and daughter are now taking separate High Court actions against B&Q Ireland.
Ms A, who is now unemployed, is seeking personal injury damages as a result of her treatment, alleging she is suffering from depression, cannot work, her self-esteem has been undermined and she has psoriasis.
Her mother, who won a case against B&Q Ireland for unfair dismissal and was awarded €6,000 for loss of earnings earlier this year, claims that she too suffers from depression and has pains in her chest.
The Employment Appeals Tribunal found she was not guilty of gross misconduct for not individually scanning 17 separate boxes of tiles.
B&Q Ireland has yet to file a defence to both actions.
EQUALITY TRIBUNAL: HOW IT OPERATES
The Equality Tribunal was set up in 1998 under the Employment Equality Act. It is often confused with the Equality Authority and the Employment Appeals Tribunal, but it is separate from both.
The tribunal deals with cases of discrimination on nine grounds which are gender (including pregnancy or maternity leave), civil status (ie married, divorced, single or separated), family status, age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and membership of the Travelling community.
Unlike the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Equality Tribunal does not sit in public because section 78 of the Act states that hearings must be heard in private.
The Equality Tribunal is known as a quasi-judicial body. Last year it made awards totalling €1,202,244. Awards ranged from €500 to €315,000. Appeals against tribunal judgments can be made to the Labour Court.
Equality Tribunal officers can decide that the names of either or both parties in a case be anonymous.
In the case of Ms A, it decided not to name her or her employer , which is B&Q Ireland.
Equality Tribunal legal adviser Síle Larkin explained: “Where there is something of a sensitive nature such as a disability of a hidden nature or something involving children, we would anonymise them. It is up to the equality officer to decide, but it will be done in conjunction with the parties.
“It is not a punishment for one party to be named or not. It is merely to protect the identities of one of the parties if the equality officer thinks it is necessary.” She pointed out that most parties are named in tribunal judgments which are made public on its website.