The woman (who remains anonymous for legal reasons) started work at JM Services, a courier company based in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, in October 2011. She was the only female employee to work at the firm. Within weeks of the start of her employment Mr Johnston and Mr McFall – the owners of the company – started to subject the woman to comments about her figure. These sexually motivated remarks became increasingly explicit as the year progressed and the woman was told in December that when male directors visited she should wear a low-cut top, a miniskirt and that she should be prepared to show the visiting directors a “good time”.
The woman said that she could not quit at this time as it was in the run-up to Christmas and she needed a job. However, she was sacked soon after Christmas (9 January 2012) when she went to take her child to the doctors. The appointment took longer than expected and when she texted to say that she would be back later than expected she was told not to return to work as “things weren’t working out”. To compound matters JM Services gave her an extremely negative reference which made finding new employment extremely difficult for her.
The woman subsequently issued an Employment Tribunal claim for direct sex discrimination, sexual harassment and unfair dismissal. The Employment Tribunal upheld all of her claims, finding that she had suffered “a very serious level of harassment” which was aggravated by the fact that it had come from the directors. It expressed its distaste at the “disgracefully lewd comments” that she had experienced and the way that the business had treated her. The Employment Tribunal awarded her £27,000 in compensation for loss of earnings, injury to feelings, aggravated damages and interest.
If you think that you’ve been discriminated against or sexually harassed by a colleague (or even a third party) at your employer you should report it to a person in a position of responsibility. If your employer fails to take reasonable action to prevent you being sexually harassed they may be vicariously liable for any further acts of harassment or discrimination that you suffer. Further, if you’re dismissed from your employment because of your sex, age, race or disability (among other things) then this may be a discriminatory dismissal.
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