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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 23 May, 2019
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Woman awarded €33k after security guard 'massaged her buttocks'

The Equality Tribunal also found that she had been victimised by her employer in their handling of the complaint.

A general view of the Merrion Shopping Centre in Dublin, in which the store involved in this claim was located.
A general view of the Merrion Shopping Centre in Dublin, in which the store involved in this claim was located.
Image: Screenshot via Google Street View

A WOMAN HAS been awarded €33,000 at the Equality Tribunal after she was sexually harassed by a security guard and subsequently victimised by her employer.

The woman, referred to in the ruling as Ms C, was working with a multinational grocer at the Merrion Shopping Centre in Dublin 4.

The incident that sparked her complaint took place in November 2011, when the security guard (Mr X) followed her into a store room.

She said he shut the door behind him and “started feeling her buttocks in a massaging motion”. Ms C shouted at him to “get out of here” once she realised what was happening.

The man later claimed he slipped and grabbed her buttocks to regain his balance, something described by the equality officer as ‘stretching credibility beyond its limits’.

Ms C said when she approached the personnel manager for the store about the incident, the woman replied “sighingly”, asking whether she wished to lodge a formal complaint or simply “talk about it”.

The manager revealed the store had received other complaints about this security guard. However, Ms C was asked to collect statements from these people herself.

This included a fellow cashier who said the security guard had put “his hand up between her legs” – she reacted by slapping him across the face – but who had not reported the incident as Mr X was married with children. It was alleged the store did not take the complaint seriously.

There was also a woman who regularly attended the store to carry out demonstrations who complained to gardaí after the man sent her “obscene text messages including images of his genitalia”.

Ms C said she was met with a “bored response” when she sought updates on the investigation, during which the security guard remained at the store, and was eventually told that the store could not prove the man was guilty.

She was out of work for six weeks with depression after this ruling. She returned to work, when she was promoted to the position of supervisor.

However, this involved a ‘money run’ to supply other tills with cash, where the supervisor is accompanied by a security guard.

‘Power’

Arrangements were made for the cash manager to accompany them if Mr X was the only security guard available – Ms C said the process ’made her feel as if she was the awkward one’ – but was eventually was told “You have to do it” on a busy day.

Ms C broke down and ‘almost collapsed with upset’ during her first time working with the security guard. She told the Tribunal that ‘‘Mr X made her feel like ‘a piece of shit’.

‘He had all the power.’

It later transpired that the security guard was refusing to work with Ms C following the complaint.  The Tribunal heard that he refused to come to her assistance when two drunk men were ‘falling over the tills’.

The store later refused to meet with an union representative, and suggested that Ms C give up her promotion move to the bakery section of the shop to avoid contact with the security guard.

In its response, the store said they made efforts to treat Ms C with concern and empathy, offering counselling, and also quoted a store manager who met with her about the cash runs:

Why I’m here is to understand what we can do to support this. For me to treat you as fair and equal you need to understand that it is fair and equal that you will both do the change run. We will try to come with some alternatives that you don’t have to do it, but I can’t promise and make a statement that it will never happen. I want you to come back to work and be happy. That’s why we are having this meeting.

The store also argued that the complaint was not as a sexual harassment case “as the harassment box rather than the sexual harassment was ticked” by Ms C. This was dismissed as the equality officer argued that it was “clearly a complaint of sexual harassment”.

The officer found that the store handled the investigation inadequately.

“Grasp the nettle”

“It is clear that none of the managers involved were willing to grasp the nettle of thoroughly investigating the many complaints of sexual harassment against Mr X,” the ruling reads.

Had the respondent investigated Ms C’s complaint properly and taken appropriate responsive action, I have no doubt this matter would not be before the Tribunal.
No adult of normal intelligence thinks that it is a wise career move to sexually harass a colleague in public. The insistence of witnesses to prove Ms C’s version of events ignores the reality of sexual harassment – that it is nearly always surreptitious.

In ruling on the sexual harassment, the equality officer noted that Mr X had no reason to follow Ms C into the room, or close the door, and that the floor was dry.

It was also noted the the security guard immediately knew who had made the allegations before Ms C was named, something described as noteworthy.

None of the above was probed, the Tribunal heard.

In ruling on victimisation, the equality officer criticised the cash officer manager for ‘repeatedly complaining to Mrs about how [assisting with cash runs] was causing her inconvenience’.

“No thought was given to moving Mr X despite numerous complaints of sexual harassment by other women which the respondent chose not to investigate properly. ”

When a valued employee is out on sick leave because she does not feel safe to return to the workplace, moving Mr C to a different premises or not scheduling him to do the cash runs with Ms C are options that could have been explored.

Ms C was awarded €33,000 plus interest – €22,000, the equivalent of a year’s salary, for the harassment endured and store’s failure to reverse the effects, and €11,000, the equivalent of six months salary, over the victimisation.

The full ruling can be read in more detail online here.

The policy of the Equality Tribunal that decisions are anonymised in complaints of sexual harassment unless the complainant specifically requests otherwise. Comments are closed for this reason.

Read: Man awarded €28,000 compensation on grounds of discrimination at work >

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About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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