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Equality Tribunal

Young employee dubbed 'Virgin Mary' by supervisors wins sexual harassment case

The young woman was awarded the maximum of two years’ salary by the Equality Tribunal.

A YOUNG WOMAN who brought a complaint of gender discrimination and sexual harassment against her employer has been awarded the maximum of two years’ salary by the Equality Tribunal.

The Equality Officer found that the woman, who was just 17 years old when she commenced employment with an unidentified, multinational retail chain, was harassed by one of her supervisors and that the respondent discriminated against her by not taking reasonable steps to prevent the behaviour.

The award of €29,756 plus interest was considered warranted in light of the severity of the unlawful conduct endured by the employee and the impact it had on her health and well-being.

The Tribunal heard that the teenager felt victimised from her very first day when she was told not to speak to her mother, who was also a store employee.

She gave details of remarks of a sexual nature made by two employees – identified as Mr. B and Mr. C – shortly after she started work at the retailers, which has several stores across Ireland and other jurisdictions.

She recalled being told, “You are only letting on to be a little Virgin Mary to your mammy, we know what you really are,” and, “You are nothing but a little hypocrite you little Virgin Mary.”

The Equality Officer was also informed that the two employees spread rumours that she was going on holidays “for a shag fest…to lose her virginity”.

The complainant told management about the issues and the staff member in question was kept on different shifts and lunch breaks but another incident on the 15 January 2010 escalated matters. The employees all attended a “leaving drinks” party where the behaviour of Mr. B towards the complainant descended into “extreme inappropriateness”. She said it started with explicit remarks involving the mechanics of sexual intercourse and questioning as to whether she had had intercourse with a specific, named man. That was followed by attempts to force her legs apart while pushing his body onto her.

According to the complainant, he attempted this twice, and in his second try “used such force that I nearly fell off the stool”. Mr. B also allegedly went over to another female colleague, attempted to force her legs apart and forced his head between her breasts, then looked at the complainant and said to her that “see, [named female colleague] likes it.”

The Tribunal found in favour of the complainant, outlining more of the evidence it received during the hearing. In his summary, the officer recalls being told that two of her supervisors asked the complainant if she had a boyfriend, if she was a virgin, if she was sleeping with her partner and if she had ever performed oral sex.

Mr. B and Mr. C would come to up to her either together or separately at times when business was slow and there were no customers around who could have overheard them. Ms. A was able to quote the verbatim comment: “Fellas really like blowjobs, you should give them”.

Mr. B was demoted following the incident at the “leaving drinks” but further complaints were dismissed with one line manager allegedly sticking his fingers into his ears and saying “La, la, la” when she tried to bring an incident to his attention, as she had been told to do by senior management and HR.

The Equality Tribunal upheld (or part-upheld) eight complaints of 22 heard in July.

Related: HSE West ordered to pay €70,000 to woman it discriminated against

Read: Gardaí speak to young girl involved in incident at Slane concert

More: Malala in Ireland to accept the Tipperary Peace Award

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