Ireland

DCU told to pay €27,000 for victimising former employee days after she made allegation of sexual harassment

Dublin City University has been ordered to pay €27,500 for victimising a former employee two days after she made a complaint of sexual harassment against her male boss.

n the case, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudicator, Marian Duffy ordered DCU to pay Rene O’Reilly €27,500 to compensate her for the distress caused to her and the effects of the victimisation under the Employment Equality Act.

In her findings, Ms Duffy stated that the alacrity with which Ms O’Reilly was notified that “she had not passed her probation two days after she made a complaint about sexual harassment is significant”.

Ms O’Reilly – who worked as Foundation Programme Coordinator at DCU’s International Office – told the WRC hearing that she was dismissed from her employment for making complaints.

Ms Duffy stated that Ms O’Reilly told the hearing that her “reputation was ruined because of the dismissal and she was out of work for a year and lost her home”.

“She retrained and got another job, but she no longer has job security,” she added.

Ms O’Reilly’s claim for victimisation was the only workplace breach she succeeded on in her claim against DCU and Ms Duffy dismissed nine separate other claims Ms O’Reilly had made against the university, including ones on the grounds of sexual harassment, harassment, conditions of employment and a payment of wages breach

Ms Duffy found that Ms O’Reilly established a prima facie case of sexual harassment in relation to the conditions of her employment.

However, Ms Duffy found that DCU was able to rebut the prima facie case raised by having effective policies and procedures in place to prevent harassment in the workplace and as a result could avail of the statutory defence under the Employment Equality Act.

The claim for sexual harassment arose from a comment made by the DCU staff member to whom Ms O’Reilly reported, after a probationary meeting in September 2018 concerning an abstract painting on an office wall.

DCU argued that the alleged lewd comment about a painting was not an act of sexual harassment and the alleged comment was not directed at Ms O’Reilly.

However, in her findings, Ms Duffy stated that it is clear that the comment was of a sexual nature and was directed at Ms O’Reilly who commenced a three-year contract with DCU in November 2017.

Ms Duffy stated that the comment was gender specific and inappropriate and therefore falls within the definition of sexual harassment.

Ms Duffy stated that she was satisfied that, from Ms O’Reilly’s evidence, she found the comment offensive and that it violated her dignity. Ms Duffy’s report doesn’t disclose the comment made.

DCU argued that Ms O’Reilly was not victimised or dismissed but she failed to pass her probation due to performance issues.

However, Ms Duffy stated that given the sequence of events leading to Ms O’Reilly failing her probation leading to her dismissal that she has raised a number of instances from which adverse treatment can be inferred.

Ms Duffy stated that Ms O’Reilly raised her first complaint of harassment on the October 1, 2018, her subsequent complaint of sexual harassment on October 22, 2018, and was told on October 24, 2018, that she had not passed her probation.

Ms O’Reilly’s employment was terminated on November 5, 2018.

Ms Duffy stated that the October probation meeting lacked any objectivity or fairness in evaluating Ms O’Reilly’s performance as the decision had already been made that she had not passed her probation.

Ms O’Reilly stated that she had attended another probation meeting in September 2018 and she was given no indication she may not pass her probation and she believed she had a successful meeting.

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