Northern Ireland news

Woman wins two-year fight against gagging order over harassment by Bank of Ireland colleague twice her age

Natasha McNicholl won her sexual harassment case at an industrial tribunal in June 2019

A BANK of Ireland employee who was sexually harassed by a male colleague nearly twice her age is able to tell her story for the first time after a two-year fight against a gagging order.

Natasha McNicholl won her sexual harassment case at an industrial tribunal in June 2019 and was awarded £18,483.07.

It heard how the man invaded her personal space, made inappropriate comments about her personal life and looks and touched and pulled her hair while she worked for the bank in Belfast between 2015-16.

He also ensured he left work at the same time to be with her in the lift.

The sexual harassment continued even after she complained to management and he was told to end contact with her.

The tribunal also heard of a separate case of inappropriate behaviour towards another female employee when he worked for the bank in Bangor, when he was required to apologise but no further action was taken.

Another woman reported harassment by the same man in 2016.

The tribunal concluded his conduct towards Ms McNicholl clearly breached the bank's harassment policy, which it was unconvinced managers had even read.

The Bank of Ireland accepted training was inadequate, with a key element only starting in the year after the events.

The man was suspended after concerns were raised by Ms McNicholl about further sexual harassment.

She felt "very strongly" that the tribunal's anonymisation order was wrong, wanting freedom to speak about the culture of tolerance towards the harassment of women and appealed the order with the support of the Equality Commission.

The bank said it also believes "in full transparency and disclosure... did not seek an anonymity order" or oppose the application and "share her disappointment that it has taken so long to resolve".

In February 2020, the Court of Appeal directed the tribunal to reconsider and it has now reversed the decision, allowing Ms McNicholl and Bank of Ireland to be named in the interests of "open justice" and the "right to freedom of expression".

She said the bank "failed to protect me from sexual harassment" and the experience "has been tough for me and my family".

"But it was important to me that my voice was heard, and that what happened to me is not hidden under a cloak of anonymity."

Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission Geraldine McGahey praised her "courage and perseverance".

The bank said the harassment was "totally unacceptable" and something it "deeply regrets", offering "sincerely apologies to her".

A spokesman said an independent external investigator conducted a "thorough, detailed and comprehensive" examination.

"We are focused on continuing to create a culture and work environment where all colleagues' right to dignity at work is respected, with `zero tolerance' for bullying, harassment or inappropriate behaviour."

`Dignity at Work' training is now mandatory for all staff and a `Speak Up' policy "encourages colleagues to raise any concerns about behaviours or practices".

"We sincerely regret what occurred. We take allegations of harassment very seriously."

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