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The Workplace Relations Commission
Sexual Harassment

Cafe owner ordered to pay €2,500 to teenage waitress in sexual harassment case

The WRC found that the cafe owner had discriminated against the young woman under the Employment Equality Act.

A CAFE OWNER has been ordered to pay out €2,500 in compensation to a teenage waitress in a workplace sexual harassment case.

In the case before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudicator Catherine Byrne found that the remark made by the cafe owner, who allegedly told the teenage waitress that “your ass is too sexy”, was sexual harassment.

Byrne found that the 17 year old waitress has shown that she was discriminated against on the ground of gender under Employment Equality Act.

In her findings, Byrne stated “it is my view that, for any young girl in her first job, such a remark would be intimidating and humiliating”.

Ordering the employer to pay the complainant €2,500 – or three months pay, Byrne stated that it is clear to her from the teenager’s evidence that the conduct she complained about “had the effect of violating her dignity and creating an intimidating and offensive environment for her at her place of work”.

In her sexual harassment claim, the waitress said after arriving at work on September 3rd 2021, she explained to the owner that she wasn’t wearing the right shoes for work as  there was a hole in the shoes that she had intended to wear. 

The waitress said that the owner kept shaking his head saying, “no.”  

The waitress then alleged that the cafe owner lifted her jacket and allegedly told her that she wasn’t to wear leggings either because they “make your ass too sexy” or “your ass is too nice” or “your ass is too sexy”.

The waitress said that the cafe owner asked a kitchen assistant what he thought but the kitchen assistant just shrugged his shoulders.

The waitress said that she was “in complete shock” and she went to put away her bag and coat and went out to the floor of the restaurant.  

As she was getting water for a table, she said that she started to cry and she went to the bathroom where she said she had a panic attack.  

The waitress stated that when she came out of the bathroom, she said that the cafe owner asked her what was wrong and she told him that what he had said to her wasn’t right and that it had made her feel uncomfortable. 

The waitress stated that the cafe owner told her to calm down and not to overreact.

The teenager said that she told him that she was a minor and that he couldn’t say such things to her and she decided to go home.

She got her bag and coat and, as she got to the door, she said that the cafe owner stood in the doorway and tried to give her a hug.  

The waitress said that she told him that she was going home and that he said that she couldn’t go home.  She said that she kept saying that she couldn’t stay at work and repeating that she is a minor. 

When she was at the door, the cafe owner called her back and she said that she went back in “to see if he was going to realise he was wrong…”  

She said that he didn’t admit to being wrong but said that she should be grateful that she had a job and that, if she left she wasn’t to come back.  

The girl said that she replied, “good, I’m not coming back.”

When she got home, the teenager said that she was still having a panic attack and her father rang the Gardaí.  

A Garda came to her house and took a statement from her.  A few days later, she was still having panic attacks and she was prescribed anti-anxiety medication.

The girl – represented by her mother at the WRC hearing – generally worked for 16 hours a week, and she was paid an hourly rate of €10.50.

The cafe owner offered a conflicting account but in her findings, Byrne stated that she found the teenager’s evidence credible in relation to the remark allegedly made.

Byrne also found that the waitress’s description of the conversation afterwards when she was clearly upset, when she said the cafe owner asked her to calm down and to stop over-reacting, was also credible. 

Byrne stated that the text message that she received from her colleague that evening adds credence to the teenager’s version of events.

Byrne stated that as a one-off remark, and as one that some might consider to be trivial, it is important to examine the wording of a section of the Employment Equality Act 1998 Act, and the focus on unwanted conduct and its effect.

Byrne stated that acts points out that the essential characteristics of harassment is that the conduct is unwanted and that it has either the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.  

In his evidence at the WRC hearing, the cafe owner recalled that on the day that the girl was dressed inappropriately for work and that he had spoken to her previously about the dress code.  

The cafe owner said that he wasn’t happy with how she was dressed, saying that she looked like she was coming from the gym and he said that he told her that she “couldn’t work like that.”  

The cafe owner said that the complainant went away, and then she said that she was leaving.

The cafe owner said that he employs many young girls, some aged 16 and he has been in the restaurant industry for 20 years. 

He said that he employs eight people in the restaurant he has had for the last 10 years and he has never had a complaint made about him.