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Firm ordered to pay €30,000 to woman after chef 'sexually harassed her and pinched her bottom'

The company provides catering services at the offices of a government department.

A FACILITIES FIRM has been ordered to pay €30,000 to a female catering assistant who had her bottom pinched by a chef/manager in a series of sexual harassment incidents involving the senior male employee.

The €30,000 award represents 18 months of pay to the worker.

Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer, Catherine Byrne, stated: “As an instance of sexual harassment, a pinch on the bottom may not be at the extreme end of the scale, but it is well within the definition of unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature.

“It was also at the end of a continuum of incidents including a punch in the ribs, being sniffed at, constant unwanted touching and making offensive sexual remarks about the complainant to her husband.”

The Polish worker made a complaint of sexual harassment concerning the bottom pinch on the same day of the incident on 1 February 2018 to her employer which provides catering services at the offices of a government department.

The chef/manager denied that he pinched the worker’s bottom and instead claimed he had a sanitiser bottle in his hand and that the bottle brushed against her. 

This was accepted by the employer after an investigation which also found that it accepted the chef/manager’s explanations regarding other issues raised by the female worker and by the extended team “to be reasonably credible”.

In making her award, Byrne stated: “It is my view that the effect of the sexual harassment suffered by the complainant was compounded by the failure of the respondent to give any credence to her evidence and I find that, of itself, this demonstrated a lack of respect for her.”

To compensate for this treatment, I decide that the respondent is to pay the complainant compensation of €30,000, which is equivalent to 18 months’ wages.

The catering assistant – who was earning €391 per week – told the WRC that the pinch was the most recent incident in a pattern of behaviour that involved the chef/manager inappropriately touching her.

She stated that he pinched her bottom as she took a trolley from him to collect items from the restaurant service area.

The worker told the WRC she stopped and pointed her finger at him and said, ‘I don’t want that.’ She said the chef/manager laughed and said, ‘Sorry.’

As she continued with her work, she realised what had happened and she got upset.

Byrne stated that she believed the catering assistant when she said that the chef/manager pinched her bottom.

Exerting power 

Byrne said she was also satisfied that, at all times, the complainant was unequivocal in her objection to the chef/manager’s “unwanted and unacceptable behaviour”.

Byrne also believed that the sniffing at the female worker by the chef/manager “and commenting on how she smelled did take place and that this conduct was harassment and sexual in nature”.

Byrne said the chef/manager described his female colleague as a “strong personality” and a “major influencing factor” in the unit and she said that prior to the bottom-pinching incident, the chef not pleased with her response to his request to answer the phone when she said, ‘I’m not a secretary.’

Byrne stated: “Sexual harassment is as much about power as about sex and, I believe that, by pinching her bottom, the chef’s intention was to humiliate the complainant and to retrieve for himself some of the power that he sensed she possessed.”

Byrne noted that in his own evidence the chef/manager said he referred to another staff member as ‘sexy Susan’, he called the complainant’s husband a ‘faggot’, and he went about smelling people.

Byrne stated that the worker, at the date of the hearing, had not returned to work due to work-related stress.

The firm was critical of the fact the catering assistant didn’t inform the HR Department early on that she was having a difficulty with the chef.

In relation to this, Byrne stated: “The suggestion here is that, because she didn’t complain at the start, his conduct may not have been all that bad.

I reject this defence entirely. Disrespect and humiliation have a stifling effect and it is well-known that victims of sexual harassment can wait a very long time to let anyone now they are being mistreated.

“The fact that the complainant waited until February 2018 to complain does not lessen the unacceptable nature of the harassment and does not diminish its effect over the previous months.”

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