Waterford pub ordered to pay employee €30,000 after sexual harassment complaint
Posted on 10th February 2022 at 20:56
Lawyer for bar worker claimed owners failed to protect her from ‘overt’ harassment by customers
A Waterford pub has been ordered to pay a woman €30,000 after a statutory complaints body found she was sexually harassed by friends of the owner and was discriminated against with a “careless and callous” firing by text.
It follows a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission of discrimination on the grounds of gender by Claire O’Neill under section 77 of the Employment Equality Act, 1998 against Pat and Andrew Kiely, trading as Paddy Browne’s Pub, Paddy Brownes Road, Waterford City, along with parallel complaints of victimisation, discriminatory dismissal, harassment and sexual harassment.
Ms O’Neill’s lawyers argued the pub owners failed to protect her from “overt and hostile sexual harassment” at work and that she was dismissed as a direct result of raising concerns about the behaviour of customers.
All the complaints were denied by the owners, who argued Ms O’Neill was sacked because of poor performance on the job during her probationary period.
Giving evidence to the hearing, one of the two owners, identified in the judgment as Mr D said he had hired Ms O’Neill for the reopening of the bar under new ownership four days before the incident on Friday May 18th, 2018.
She was one of several staff who worked at the bar under its previous owners and she had raised concerns about the behaviour of a particular couple, Mr A and Ms B, who she said were friends of the owner.
Giving evidence, Ms O’Neill said it was close to closing time when she heard Ms B complaining about service from the lounge. As her colleague, the bar supervisor Mr S, went to serve her, Ms O’Neill said she heard Ms B ask rhetorically where Ms O’Neill was.
She then answered her own question, suggesting the Ms O’Neill was probably engaged in a sexual act with a named manager, the hearing was told.
Mr S dismissed the comment, served the pint, and told Ms B it would be her last.
Following a row in which the couple denied what was said, Ms B left and Mr A remained – going on to verbally attack the two workers, she said.
The complainant also said Mr A called her a “cow”.
Ms O’Neill said the bar supervisor, Mr S, stood up for her and barred the couple.
But she says even though the bar’s co-owner, Mr C, made no mention of the quality of her work in subsequent conversations and reassured her that her job was secure, she wasn’t rostered.
‘15 minute wait’
The following Wednesday she said she arrived to the pub seeking to have Mr C address the issue, but that he “approached her screaming for her to get out”, she told the hearing.
She then said she received a text saying: “We won’t be offering you a contract at Paddy Browns [sic], so therefore, your probation is over. We can’t run a business like this.”
In his evidence, the owner Mr C said after he learned about the incident he drove to the couple’s home and was told they had been left waiting 15 minutes for a drink.
He told them the bar supervisor Mr S didn’t have the authority to bar them.
However he said Mr A did admit he had used language against Ms O’Neill.
That evening, he said he discussed the matter with Ms O’Neill at the bar and told her that with a wait of 15 minutes “it was no wonder they turned on her”.
But he said he didn’t know the full extent of what had been said to her.
He said Mr S told him neither he nor Ms O’Neill would go to work if he allowed the couple to return and so he left her off the roster.
The customer Mr A also gave evidence to the hearing and admitted he was drunk and “over the top” on the night, and confirmed he swore at Ms O’Neill.
He said he and his partner agreed to go and see the bar supervisor after the owner’s visit, and to pass on his apologies, but says he did not see Ms O’Neill.
The pub’s lawyers submitted that there had been no formal investigation, but that Mr C had done his best to try and resolve a “contentious situation”.
The management considered Ms O’Neill was already on “thin ice” because of her performance at work and the pub was presented with an ultimatum when she threatened not to work if the couple were not barred.
In her ruling, adjudicating officer Patsy Doyle said she accepted the pub environment would present “frontier challenges in terms of crowd control, customer services and the influence of intoxicants”.
She said it was vital for such businesses to be “equipped and fortified with robust employment policies” which were absent in this case.
“The respondent did not manage the fallout from the incidents of what I have since found to be harassment. They did not have the tools at their disposal and took the path of least resistance when they terminated the complainant’s employment on 25 May by text,” she wrote. “I found this to be both careless and callous and stood in sharp contrast to the retention in employment of the supervisor, Mr S.”
But Ms Doyle added that Ms O’Neill also “exhibited blameworthy conduct” as a worker with nine years’ experience in the bar trade, as she had failed to attend a proposed meeting with the other partner in the pub business.
“I find that her participation in the ultimatum did not do her justice and was an unorthodox and provocative action to her detriment,” she added.
She found that on the balance of probabilities, gender had played a role in Ms O’Neill’s dismissal and upheld the complaint of discrimination.
Ms Doyle found Ms O’Neill experienced harassment and sexual harassment as a result of what was said to her by the customers, saying the effects of this had endured because of non-resolution in the workplace.
She ordered the bar owners to pay her €25,000 for effects of the discrimination, and awarded Ms O’Neill a further €5,000 on the basis of discriminatory dismissal.
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