In a recent sexual harassment case, an employment tribunal found that an employee was victimised and sexually harassed by her boss. The unanimous judgement by the tribunal stated that the boss was sexually aggressive with the employee and victimised the employee by threatening to report an undeclared amount of her income.
What Exactly Happened?
Miss T Donlon, the claimant in the case, started working for Leslie Easton as a part-time administrative assistant in his company – Leslie Easton & Co Ltd, on 14th April 2014. She worked three hours a week and reported to Leslie Easton.
About six months into the role, Mr Easton started making rude remarks about Ms Donlon. In 2017, a customer commented on how lucky Ms Donlon was to wear a skirt as it was a hot day (she wore shorts that looked like a skirt), to which Mr Easton replied, “Well we keep telling her to take all her clothes off, but she won’t have any of it”.
The customer in front of whom this incident occurred, then proceed to complain about the incident in a letter addressed to Mr Easton, his son Justin Easton, and the director of the company Robbie Goodwright. The letter said that Mr Easton had responded to the comment about the shorts, saying “It would be better if they had nothing on”.
In addition to this incident, Ms Donlon produced offensive messages by Mr Easton to the court, which consisted of about 146 memes and 31 videos. These were sent to her between February 2018 and March 2020, and they were all offensive in some way (sexual or otherwise). Ms Donlon asked Mr Easton to stop sending her offensive messages, but he ignored her. He even added her to a WhatsApp group with other people where he continued sharing offensive messages.
Another incident took place in 2019 when Ms Donlon was in Mr Easton’s office without anyone present. She bent down to pick up a pen she dropped, and Mr Easton said “Ooh, while you’re down there, love” suggesting that she perform a sexual act which made her uncomfortable and feel humiliated.
Upon her employment ending in 2020, Ms Donlon complained on 8th May 2020 about the way her employment ended, and she also complained about sexual harassment. Ms Donlon told Mr Easton in her letter that she has contacted ACAS as well. While there was no response to the letter, on 9th May, Leslie Easton texted Ms Donlon asking her if she mentioned that she worked 16 hours a month and about the cash in hand for cleaning.
Ms Donlon found this to be unprofessional and impolite as Mr Easton was insinuating that she worked extra hours for cash in hand, which was not true according to her. Ms Donlon then brought her case to the tribunal and claimed she was unfairly dismissed, victimised, sexually harassed and wrongfully dismissed without any written reason for her dismissal.
What Did the Tribunal Say?
This case was heard at London South Employment Tribunal before Judge Ferguson.
With regard to the incident that occurred in front of the customer, both Mr Easton and Justin had nothing to say about it and Mr Easton chose not to offer any evidence. This letter was presented at the hearing and Mr Goodwright confirmed that he still had the letter and that Mr Easton did in fact say what was written.
The tribunal did note the fact that the two incidents were inconsistent with each other with respect to what was said. However, the tribunal did not consider that it would undermine the credibility of the incident and said it would be surprising if the recollection of the words were identical.
Additionally, the tribunal also accepted that all the offensive messages were in fact sent by Mr Easton to Ms Donlon. They found the messages to be racist, sexually inappropriate and distasteful and also stated that it was extraordinary that a director of a company was sending such messages to an employee.
The message from Mr Easton to Ms Donlon about the hours and cash in hand were seen as threats by the tribunal. The tribunal further added that since sexual harassment had taken place, the message from Mr Easton could be because he was annoyed by the letter and aggrieved that Ms Donlon was complaining about it.
Hence, the complaints regarding victimisation and sexual harassment both succeeded. The complaints around wrongful and unfair dismissal were withdrawn by Ms Donlon. She was awarded a total of £19,000 as compensation for injury to feelings.
If you are being sexually harassed or victimised at work, get in touch with the employment law specialists at Redmans Solicitors today!!