An agency nurse who was sexually assaulted while working in a prison had all her shifts cancelled after her case was raised with prison service management in an Oireachtas committee meeting.
The nurse had been unhappy with the manner in which prison management were dealing with her assault.
She was subsequently awarded €65,000 for what the Workplace Relations Commission ruled was “penalisation”.
“This complaint is well founded,” Marguerite Buckley, the adjudication officer for the WRC said.
“A finding of penalisation is a very serious matter which should be marked with a substantial award for compensation.”
The nurse was assaulted in November 2018 by a prisoner who grabbed her breast. The assault was witnessed by prison officers. The nurse was not informed of any specific inquiry into the matter, nor was it referred to An Garda Síochána. The WRC hearing was told that the nurse, when asked, said she did not want to go to the gardaí.
A week after the assault she was assigned to work in the same area and had not received any form of support, the hearing, in which the parties were anonymised, heard.
The ruling stated that “the response [by prison management] to her assault and the reporting of it was seriously lacking” and that the nurse continued to work in the area “under duress”.
Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry raised an issue about an agency nurse who had complained of “sexual harassment” at the Public Accounts Committee meeting in January 2019. The director of human resources in the prison service, Don Culliton, replied that he was unaware of any such incident.
On the same day, the nurse was contacted to be told her services would no longer be required. She had been working for the prison service for over two years and had been hoping for a permanent appointment. At the WRC hearing the prison service denied that the cancellation had anything to do with the Oireachtas hearing, but related to a minor incident some months previously and an issue around training. The adjudicator rejected this evidence.
The adjudicator said: “I am satisfied, as a matter of probability, that, were it not for her complaint regarding her assault being raised before the Public Accounts Committee the issue on her [training] course or the incident which occurred in June 2018 would not have resulted in her shifts being cancelled.”
Mr MacSharry has written to the chairperson of the Pac asking that in light of the ruling the Irish Prison Service be invited to give evidence before the committee.
He said: “At a later meeting [of the Pac] I said that it had come to my attention that there is a parallel investigative and judicial process within the prison service in relation to a number of different issues. What this Labour court ruling proves is that I was right.”