A worker at a multinational retailer in a Dublin shopping centre, who claimed she was victimised after she complained that a security guard massaged her buttocks, has been awarded €33,000 by the Equality Tribunal.
The complainant claimed that, in November 2010, she went to the storeroom, and passed the security guard, who was looking at CCTV footage. In her evidence to the tribunal, she said he followed her to the storeroom and started feeling her buttocks. She said she said to him: “Are you trying to feel me?” and he said: “Do you mind?” She shouted at him: “What do you think? Get out of here.”
The complainant, given the name Ms C, said she felt physically intimidated, as the security guard, Mr X, was younger, bigger, and heavier than her. She said he was visibly excited by what occurred.
She told her colleagues what happened and one of them, Ms A, said Mr X had done something similar to her, and that others had also been sexually harassed by him.
Ms C told the personnel manager, Ms B, about the incident, but said Ms B sighed and replied: “Are you making a formal complaint or do you just want to talk about it?”
She later informed Ms B that she wished to make a formal complaint and she made a written statement. She also told Ms B that she had been told of other incidents of sexual harassment by Mr X against employees.
She said Ms B’s response was to ask her to obtain statements from the other alleged victims, which she did from Ms A. Ms C told the tribunal another woman, a demonstrator, had made a complaint about Mr X to the gardaí over obscene text-messages, including images of his genitalia. A garda investigation was ongoing into that claim at the time.
Ms C said he was later called into a meeting with the store manager and Ms B, and told that all that could be done was that a comment would be put on Mr X’s file to say there had been allegations made against him, but that, due to lack of evidence, it could not be proved that he was guilty. No appeal of this decision was offered.
She was later offered a promotion to supervisor, but that involved doing the ‘money run’ to supply tills with cash, a job which normally required a security guard to be present. She was worried Mr X would accompany her.
She said Ms B assured her that this would be avoided and, where he was the only security guard, someone from the cash office would accompany her.
Ms C said there were no problems with the money run for a few weeks. However, a few weeks later, the cash-officer manager insisted that Mr X accompany Ms C on the money run. Shortly after commencing that cash-run, the complainant broke down and almost collapsed with upset.
In the new year, it was suggested to the complainant that she move to the bakery, thereby losing her promotion, to avoid contact with Mr X. She said this made her feel as if what occurred was her fault.
In its evidence to the tribunal, the respondent said it had investigated the alleged incident, as per its procedures. There were no witnesses so, therefore, there was no evidence that the incident actually happened. It said Mr X said he slipped and grabbed Ms C’s buttocks to regain his balance and apologised immediately.
Equality officer Orlaith Mannion said the company had investigated the sexual harassment complaint inadequately.
“The insistence of witnesses to prove Ms C’s version of events ignores the reality of sexual harassment — that it is nearly always surreptitious,” she said. “The floor was flat and dry. By all accounts, he was bigger and heavier than Ms C. Therefore, it stretches credibility beyond its limits that he slipped and the only part of her body that he could grab, to prevent him falling, was her buttocks.”
She ordered the company to pay €22,000 in compensation for the harassment and the respondent’s failure to reverse the effects, and €11,000 for the victimisation.
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