A fashion retailer has been ordered to pay €15,000 to a sales assistant who had her left breast ‘patted’ by her boss in front of a colleague at a staff meeting.
In a harassment and discrimination case at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudication Officer, Eugene Hanly made the award chiefly as a result of the firm failing to inform the woman of the outcome of the disciplinary investigation into the manager’s conduct.
The firm suspended the manager and he immediately resigned his position after meeting with the firm's Area Manager.
In the incident on June 18, 2018, the woman’s boss is alleged to have placed his hand on her chest, pulled up her top, patted her left breast and said, “we will cover them up for this meeting”.
The incident took place at a staff meeting to discuss the potential closure of the store.
In her evidence at the WRC, the woman stated that she “immediately felt uncomfortable, intimidated and violated”.
She said that the incident had an immediate detrimental effect on her health and she was certified unfit for work on certified sick leave.
Two days later on June 20, 2018 the woman made a complaint over the incident to the ‘Team Voice Representative’.
According to the fashion retailer, the alleged perpetrator was immediately suspended from work.
The Senior Area Manager and the Area Manager met with the Complainant on July 31, 2018 and the Area Manager met with the alleged perpetrator as part of the investigation and the manager immediately resigned his position.
The firm accepted vicarious liability in the case and Mr Hanly found that the complainant “experienced a behaviour/conduct perpetrated by her immediate manager and witnessed by a colleague that she believed was unwarranted conduct which in her opinion violated her dignity and created an intimidating environment”.
He stated: “I find that sufficient evidence was produced to establish the presumption of discrimination.”
The woman made a number of efforts to find out the outcome of the investigation of her complaint from the firm.
The firm told her in one letter: “Unfortunately I will not be in a position to discuss the outcome of these investigations with you”.
Mr Hanly stated that this was repeated a number of times “and I note that this caused considerable concern and unhappiness for the complainant”.
After further attempts to find out the outcome of the investigation, the woman told the firm: “I have heard nothing. This has caused me considerable distress and upset and has required me to seek medical advice”.
The firm would only say that the alleged perpetrator was no longer in the business and Mr Hanly deemed this insufficient.
Mr Hanly found that the complainant was entitled to find out the outcome of the investigation; was entitled to a decision on whether her complaint was upheld or not and was entitled to know what the outcome was, concerning her alleged harasser.
Mr Hanly stated that he found that the fashion retailer has failed to address these matters and “as a consequence, I uphold her complaint of harassment and discrimination”.
The woman resigned from her post on October 8, 2018 and failed in a separate case of constructive dismissal against the company.