Sex Discrimination Case NI: Two Female Scientists Awarded £47,500

Posted in : NI on 6 July 2016
Legal-Island
Legal-Island

A public body has paid almost £50,000 to settle cases brought by two scientists who alleged they were subjected to sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation at work.

Carole Daly and Hollie Lewis worked at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in south Belfast. They claimed they were regularly treated less favourably by two male co-workers and were subjected to abuse. The institute paid £25,000 to Ms Daly and £22,500 to Ms Lewis. Ms Daly began working at AFBI in 2013 after returning from maternity leave. Ms Lewis worked with the institute since 2004 and was transferred to the Newforge Lane laboratory in 2014.

Commentary

This settlement demonstrates the damage that can be caused when employers fail to take a proactive approach to preventing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Not only has this public body had to pay out almost £50,000 to end the legal action but they lost 1 member of staff, while another was relocated and are now in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Northern Ireland is a small place. Black clouds over employers don’t tend to disappear quickly and the biggest cost to an employer in these types of cases can often be in the area of recruitment when new, able staff prove hard to find.

The law takes a very strict view when considering the employer’s liability for harassment between employees. Article 42 of the Sex Discrimination Order states :-
 
(1) Anything done by a person in the course of his employment shall be treated for the purposes of this Order as done by his employer as well as by him, whether or not it was done with the employer's knowledge or approval.

Article 42(3) however provides a limited defence :
(3) In proceedings brought under this Order against any person in respect of an act alleged to have been done by an employee of his it shall be a defence for that person to prove that he took such steps as were reasonably practicable to prevent the employee from doing that act, or from doing in the course of his employment acts of that description.
 
In Northern Ireland identical clauses to Article 41(1) and (3) can be found in legislation covering other types of discriminatory harassment.

When considering what “such steps as were reasonably practicable to prevent the employee from doing that act..” actually mean Tribunals generally want to see evidence that the employer has :

  1. An up-to-date equal opportunities policy
  2. Actively implemented the policy
  3. Done recent training on equality issues

Previously, before popular use of the Internet, Tribunals may have had some sympathy with employers  who pointed to the logistical difficulties of providing classroom based training to large numbers of employees across multiple sites. Not anymore with the advent of e-learning and training that can be done online at the user’s convenience. Today, many employment lawyers would argue that evidence of recent equality training is a prerequisite for resisting liability under Article 42.

Details on Legal-Island’s own online equality training specific to Northern Ireland can be found here.

This article is correct at 06/07/2016
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