Northern Ireland news

Armagh woman who suffered sexual harassment from ice cream shop boss awarded more than £54,000

Alona Forose. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.
Allan Preston

A CO Armagh woman who was sexually harassed as a teenage schoolgirl by her ice-cream shop boss, has been awarded more than £54,000 in compensation.

The Court of Appeal upheld an earlier industrial tribunal judgment in the sexual harassment case taken by Alona Forose against her former employer Eugene Geraghty.

Ms Forose was 15-years-old when in March 2017 she took a part-time job in Scoopy Sweets and Ice-cream shop in Armagh.

Two months later, she confided to her mother that the shop owner, who was 40 years her senior, had sexually harassed her.

Following a criminal investigation, Geraghty pleaded guilty to a single charge of common assault and received a suspended sentence along with a Risk of Sexual Harm Order.

Supported by the Equality Commission, Ms Forose has now won a Court of Appeal case to uphold the earlier tribunal judgment.

Her witness statements to the police provided a long list of explicitly sexual verbal harassment and behaviours including inappropriate touching and smacking.

The tribunal had described Ms Forose as a “calm, consistent and truthful witness” while Geraghty - who appealed the findings - was characterised as “evasive and unconvincing”.

The original judgment was upheld by the Court of Appeal in respect to the removal of the anonymity order, the use of special measures and the tribunal taking account of factual evidence in respect of previous allegations.

The level of overall compensation was reduced to £54,335, which the court said remained a "significant award".

Speaking after the judgment, Ms Forose said: “It is very important to me that I am allowed to tell my story at last. This has been a long and difficult time for me and my family, but people need to know what Mr Geraghty did to me. I am glad the Court of Appeal agreed that the Tribunal was correct to revoke the anonymity order from my case."

She added: “I found Eugene Geraghty's behaviour dirty and distressing. When I challenged it, he just said I was lying. I'd like other girls to know that you don't have to put up with harassment, you can challenge it and you will be listened to. I'm so grateful to my family and friends and to the Equality Commission who helped me.

“I'm also grateful that the Tribunal supported me to ensure I didn't come face to face with Eugene Geraghty while giving evidence or attending court, it made the whole experience less stressful.”

Geraldine McGahey, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission said Geraghty's behaviour had the effect of "violating her dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment".

She also welcomed the Court of Appeal's recognition of special measures in place during the tribunal.

Used for the first time in Northern Ireland, they included the use of technology to allow Ms Forose to give evidence in a separate room and to avoid direct questioning from Geraghty.

Ms McGahey concluded: “There is no doubt, this is a particularly harrowing case. Instances of sexual harassment and discrimination simply should not happen in any workplace, but we know they do. We must continue to challenge this unacceptable and illegal behaviour, and the culture of silence that often surrounds it. It must be eradicated, no employee should ever have to experience what Alona did."