Northern Ireland news

Starplan Christmas party ends in sexual harassment case

Shirley Lyons had worked as a designer/sales consultant with Starplan in Portadown for almost five years. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Suzanne McGonagle

A WOMAN who worked at a Co Armagh furniture showroom has been awarded almost £20,000 by an industrial tribunal following a sexual harassment, victimisation and unfair dismissal case.

Shirley Lyons, a designer/sales consultant with Starplan in Portadown, took the case after a staff Christmas party in December 2017.

The tribunal found that one of her colleagues had made comments about her breasts and hugged her from behind without her consent during the party. He also suggested they might have an affair and touched her inappropriately.

The tribunal said it was "satisfied that these matters amount to both verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature".

Ms Lyons reported the incident to her line manager and later lodged a formal written grievance, which was investigated. She received the grievance investigation report, which upheld some of her allegations and dismissed others. She appealed this.

She later raised allegations of victimisation against three colleagues including ignoring and excluding her, threatening to "take her down" and intimidating and abusive language and behaviour.

Ms Lyons felt she could not remain at the company and resigned.

Her complaints of sexual harassment and victimisation were partially upheld and the tribunal panel found her claim of unfair dismissal was "well founded" and she was awarded £18,857 in compensation.

Ms Lyons said: "Initially I was determined not to let it ruin my night, and I did my best to make it clear I had had enough of this behaviour on the night, but it ended up a very bad experience.

"What happened afterwards, though, was worse - my workplace no longer felt safe for me and I felt physically sick going into work in the mornings.

"I stood up to behaviour that shouldn’t be happening in any workplace and my manager, and my employer totally failed to protect me both from the harassment and from being victimised afterwards."

Geraldine McGahey from the Equality Commission said: "Work parties and outings can be an important element of reward, recognition and team building.

"But like any other area of work, employers must ensure everyone attending is safe and their dignity is respected, and if that doesn’t happen, and staff have cause to complain, they must be protected from victimisation."

Northern Ireland news