A female worker who had her breasts squeezed by a male colleague after he told her he "would look after" her chest infection has been awarded €25,000 for sexual harassment.
At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudication Officer, Kevin Baneham has ordered the woman’s employer pay out the €25,000 for the “extensive humiliation” endured by the woman over a series of sexual harassment incidents.
Mr Baneham stated that the evidence by the woman at the WRC hearing was “cogent” and “clear” and found that her allegations of sexual harassment “are established as fact”.
The service administrator reported the incidents of sexual harassment to her employer, a waste services company.
However, an investigation carried out by the employer did not uphold any of her sex harassment allegations.
In his findings, Mr Baneham stated that the worker “was not believed when she should have been”.
Mr Baneham stated that the female worker “is an employee of good standing who did everything right”.
Mr Baneham found that the employer was vicariously liable for the perpetrator’s actions as it did not take reasonable practicable steps to prevent the actions.
On the company investigation, Mr Baneham found that that the employer did not adequately assess the evidence; gave too little weight to the complainant’s account and did not press the perpetrator on the gaps in his evidence.
In one incident, the complainant stated that her male colleague came up behind her and placed his hands on her hips, squeezing her and when she asked him to stop, he pulled her into him, hugging her from the side.
In another instant, the woman was at a sink in the kitchenette at work when the alleged perpetrator pushed up against her.
He put his hands over her shoulders and her chest and slammed his porridge bowl into the sink and he proceeded to clean the bowl over her shoulders.
She also stated that the alleged perpetrator also referred to the finance staff as bitches when saying they “they were our bitches”. She said that this was degrading.
The complainant outlined that the harassment was extremely distressing and had a detrimental effect on her physical and mental health
The complainant also alleged that she was subjected to an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment.
The complainant also stated that her male colleague made continuous comments about a criminal gang.
She explained that she has a familial connection to members of the gang, and while she never mentioned this in work, she was aware that it was a topic of office gossip.
She stated that on one occasion, she was holding a vessel containing the ashes of a pet animal, when the alleged perpetrator said that this was her work for this criminal gang.
The complainant told the WRC that the alleged perpetrator portrayed himself as an over-friendly gay man who said he liked to touch people.
The alleged perpetrator left the business in July 2018 and the complainant did not return to work.
During the course of the investigation, the alleged perpetrator generally denied the incidents outlined by the complainant.
He accepted that the porridge bowl incident occurred although denied that there was any sexual connotation to it.
In his findings on the porridge bowl incident, Mr Baneham found that “this was sexual harassment because of the humiliating effect it had on the complainant".
“It was an uncomfortable, aggressive physical act where the complainant was engulfed by the perpetrator’s body.”
He found that "the other elements of sexual harassment took place as described by the complainant".
Mr Baneham stated: “A great deal of weight was placed in this case on the alleged perpetrator’s flamboyant nature. He is said to be tactile and loud. There is reference to him being gay and he says he is not monogamous. I have no idea of his sexual orientation; however, this is irrelevant. Discriminatory harassment is about power, not about attraction or unrequited affection."
Mr Baneham earlier stated: “It is important to note that sexual harassment is not something that emanates from attraction. It is not a misplaced or unrequited advance. It is something that violates a person’s dignity. The subjective intention of the perpetrator does not determine whether an act constitutes harassment; that is judged from the perspective of the victim.”