An Employee v an Employer
ODEI - THE EQUALITY TRIBUNAL
Equality Officer Decision No: DEC-E-2002-042
File Reference: EE2000/100
Employment Equality Act, 1998
Employment law – Equality – Sexual discrimination – Delay – Installation of surveillance equipment – Whether company delayed in investigating complaint – Whether employer took reasonable steps to prevent the harassment – Whether complaints fabricated by complainant – Employment Equality Act, 1998 – Equal Status Act, 2000.
This dispute concerned a claim of sexual harassment by a female complainant that her employer, the respondent, discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, in terms of section 6(2) of the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and contrary to section 23 of that Act when it (i) failed to provide her with a working environment free from sexual harassment and (ii) failed to deal with her complaints in an appropriate manner. The complainant alleged that she was subjected to a campaign of incidents at her place of employment and that these alleged incidents constituted sexual harassment of her contrary to the Employment Equality Act, 1998. The respondent rejected the complainant’s assertions and contended that the matters complained of by her were so serious that it considered the only appropriate action to take was to inform the Gardaí, which it did promptly, and that thereafter the respondent co-operated fully with the Garda investigation. In addition the respondent contended that a strong body of evidence existed to support its contention that the complainant has fabricated allegations and had wrongfully accused the fellow employee of criminal behaviour.
Held by the Equality Officer in finding that (i) the respondent did not discriminate against the complainant on the basis of her gender in terms of section 6(2) of the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and contrary to section 23 of the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and (ii) the complainant failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination in respect of her allegations that the behaviour of a fellow employee constituted sexual harassment contrary to section 23 of the Employment Equality Act, 1998. Furthermore there were issues surrounding the credibility of the complainant relating to the origin of some of the documents connected with the complaint and the Equality Officer was of the view that the complainant had attempted to mislead the investigation.
This dispute concerns a claim of sexual harassment by a named female complainant that a named respondent discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, in terms of section 6(2) of the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and contrary to section 23 of that Act when it (i) failed to provide her with a working environment free from sexual harassment and (ii) failed to deal with her complaints in an appropriate manner.
1 The complainant alleges that she was subjected to a campaign of incidents between April, 1999 and September, 2000 at her place of employment and in the course of her employment which were offensive and humiliating to her on the basis of her gender and that these alleged incidents constitute sexual harassment of her contrary to the Employment Equality Act, 1998. She further alleges that the respondent failed to deal with her complaints seriously and that it also failed to provide her with a working environment free from sexual harassment. The respondent rejects the complainant’s assertions and states that the matters complained of by her were so serious that it considered the only appropriate action to take was to inform the Gardaí, which it did promptly, and that thereafter the respondent co-operated fully with the Garda investigation.
2.2 In October, 2000 the complainant referred a complaint of sexual harassment under the Employment Equality Act, 1998 to the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations. In accordance with her powers under the Act, the Director delegated the complaint to Mr. Vivian Jackson, Equality Officer for investigation and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part VII of the Act. Written submissions were received from both parties. The hearing of the complaint commenced on 29 May, 2001 and concluded on 21 May, 2002 during which it convened on sixteen separate occasions covering 20 days (or part days). The final piece of correspondence in connection with the complaint was received from the parties on 11 July, 2002. In accordance with the standard practice operated by this Office in respect of cases relating to sexual harassment, the names of the
parties and those persons who attended the hearing have not been published in this Decision. A list of those individuals mentioned in the Decision is at Appendix A.
3.1 The complainant states that from late April, 1999 another employee of the respondent, Mr. A, began to make comments to her which she found inappropriate. These comments referred to the Jill Dando murder, suggestions that she had purchased items in the Anne Summers shop, comments about her perfume and suggestions that particular clothes might suit her. She contends that her secretary at that time Ms. E, witnessed many of these comments. The day after Valentine’s Day 2000 she received a bunch of flowers at her work address which had been sent anonymously. She immediately suspected Mr. A as the person who had sent the flowers but did not confront him with her suspicion. Shortly afterwards, she suspected that her mail was being tampered with and after discussing her suspicions with her immediate supervisor she confronted Mr. A about this issue. She states that “to the best of her knowledge her mail was never tampered with again”.
3.2 The complainant states that from mid-February to mid-April, 2000 a number of items were stolen from her desk. She adds that around Easter, 2000 a series of typed notes began to appear on her desk or in her drawer pedestal. The notes contained comments and threats of a sexual nature and the complainant destroyed the first few. About a week after the first note appeared, the tone and content of the notes became more threatening and the complainant decided to discuss them with a work colleague, Mr. B, with whom she had become friendly. Around this time she also anonymously received chocolates and a cuddly toy. The complainant adds that she was confronted by Mr. A on a number of occasions in the corridor and that he made inappropriate comments to her. During May the frequency of the notes escalated and the content progressed to one of a graphic sexual nature and death threats - the latter suggesting that the complainant would meet the same fate as Jill Dando. Mr. B had been made aware of the content and frequency of the notes by the complainant. They discussed the prospect of reporting the matter to Mr. C, the respondent’s
Personnel Officer and the complainant agrees to such a course of action in late April/early May. Mr. C was concerned about the issue and it was agreed that surveillance equipment would be installed. The complainant contends that this equipment was to comprise two cameras - one in her office and another in the corridor leading to her office. She also contends that Mr. C informed her that he would deal with this matter personally.
3.3 Sometime towards the end of May the complainant received a letter which had been addressed to her but dropped in a lift in the building. This note again referred to Jill Dando - it had a picture of that reporter stapled to it and contained the words “murder victim” and “tortured”. The complainant was extremely upset by this note and at this stage was fearful for her safety and she brought this note to Mr. C. He was also concerned about the complainant’s safety and informed her that he was going to involve the Gardaí. On 31 May, 2000 the complainant, accompanied by both Mr. B and Mr. C, met with Garda X who had responsibility for the security of the respondent’s building. The complainant states that she found this meeting extremely upsetting and traumatic. On 2 June, 2000 she met with Garda Y, who took her statement and the Garda investigation of her complaint commenced. The complainant states that although she suspected Mr. A as the harasser, she did not mention his name to Garda Y at this meeting.
3.4 Around this time the complaint alleges the she began to receive anonymous telephone calls on her mobile phone. The complainant states that a person with whom she shared her office, Mr. D, witnessed these calls and that he also witnessed Mr. A making a comment to her along the lines of “have you been stabbed yet?”. These calls continued until she left the respondent’s employment and continued afterwards - in fact she alleges she received such a call in February, 2002.
3.5 The complainant states that during the week of 22 May, 2000 she received a telephone call from Ms. F, a member of staff attached to the respondent’s Accommodation Section - which has responsibility for, inter alia, security issues in the
building - to discuss arrangements in connection with the installation of the surveillance equipment. The complainant states she was astonished that a junior member of staff was contacting her about such an issue and that this was contrary to the assurance she had been given by Mr. C. The complainant alleges that Ms. F made a number of remarks to her concerning the installation which she considered to be rude and confrontational. The complainant states she reported Ms. F’s behaviour to Mr. C and it appears that he took no action...
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