The Old Conna Golf Club in Co Wicklow has been ordered to pay a worker €25,000 for being sexually harassed by her general manager at work.
The manager reportedly described himself as “horny” and “well endowed,” noting, “Isn’t it great to have [her] on her knees?” when the complainant used office equipment.
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) heard the club was a “toxic” “male-dominated workplace” where there was a “hierarchy of power”.
However, the managing director described his relationship with the complainant as “good and friendly” and denied referring to “horny females” or commenting on “women’s asses”.
Emily Farrell’s Employment Equality Act complaints against Old Conna Golf Club trustees – John Hennessy, John L. Byrne and Jean Flynn – alleging discrimination through harassment, sexual harassment and victimization have been upheld by the WRC in a decision released today.
The allegations were denied by the trustees.
Ms Farrell’s lawyer, Matthew Jolley BL, told WRC his client had been subjected to a “campaign of repeated, regular and persistent harassment and invasion of her privacy” that began in December 2016, just three months after she was hired.
Ms. Farrell stated that the Old Conna’s general manager would be in her office daily and question her about her personal and personal life and intimate relationships.
She said this behavior wasn’t bothersome at first, but she felt “very uncomfortable” and started noting the incidents on her phone calendar.
Ms Farrell said the general manager came to her home uninvited in February 2017 and made comments about the cars and people there.
She said there were “regular unwelcome comments about her clothing and appearance [and] hair” from this man.
He also offered “unwelcome descriptions of his own personal life, marital status and intimate behavior,” she said.
The general manager asked if she used dating apps and questioned about the “logistics” if she “got lucky and scored a goal” on a night out with kids at home, Ms Farrell said.
The complainant said that when she was given a permanent contract in May 2017, the manager’s behavior “deteriorated”.
Among the incidents, she said, he described himself as “horny” and “well endowed” and asked her to “set him up” with one of her friends.
The behavior was worse when colleagues were on holiday and Ms Farrell was left alone in the office with the man, she said, telling the court that one of her coping strategies was to go to the toilet to avoid him.
A letter from the applicant’s family doctor submitted in evidence related to the fact that she came for treatment three times in 2019 with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The doctor found that the applicant blamed a manager who “harassed her at work” and called her home unannounced.
In November 2019, an anonymous letter was sent to the golf club alleging that the “two girls in the office” were subjected to sexual harassment, the tribunal was told.
Ms Farrell said she was only ever shown a “heavily edited” version of that letter and needed to continue working with the general manager.
Even after the anonymous letter, the manager continued to make sexual remarks towards Ms Farrell, the tribunal was told.
Before the 2019 Christmas party, he asked her if she would “go out with one of the greenkeepers,” she said.
On another occasion, when Ms. Farrell was using a laminator, the general manager remarked to another worker, “Isn’t it great to have [her] on your knees?”, the WRC heard.
In all, Ms. Farrell reported 23 incidents of harassment and sexual harassment in a formal complaint letter dated December 20, 2019.
A second worker, identified in the decision as Ms AR, shared an office with Ms Farrell and said the working environment at Old Conna was “toxic”.
The Adjudicating Officer found that Ms AR was able to corroborate several of the allegations made by Ms Farrell.
Ms AR said it was a “male-dominated workplace” where there was a “hierarchy of power”.
She added that she and Ms Farrell “tolerated an unbearable situation for a quiet life for three years” and only got the “courage” to make their formal complaints after the anonymous letter.
Eamon Matty BL, who performed for the Old Conna, said it acted “firmly and expeditiously” by launching a thorough investigation led by an “independent and experienced” expert.
The club had never become aware of any alleged wrongdoing prior to the anonymous letter, he said, and immediately nominated two members of its council to meet Ms Farrell.
He argued that Ms Farrell had failed to invoke her employer’s grievance procedure and failed to meet the burden of proof during an investigation that “consistently conformed fully to fair trials” and reached “objectively supportable” findings.
The club’s bar manager said Ms Farrell and the general manager socialized on a daily basis and were “like a married couple” – adding that the atmosphere in the office ranged from “chatty” to “you could cut it with a knife”.
He confirmed Ms Farrell had complained to him about the general manager’s behavior and was “confused” on how to report a complaint – but that she had told him no when he suggested he “chat” with the general manager could.
He said he didn’t know what sexual harassment meant.
The general manager stated that his relationship with Ms. Farrell was “good and amicable” and that there was “nothing in their interaction” that made him believe she was uncomfortable.
He denied referring to “horny women” or making any comment about “women’s butts,” and said other incidents “were never brought up as offensive to him.”
He added that if he had been told to quit, he would have.
In her decision, Trial Officer Marguerite Buckley wrote that the evidence presented by the complainant was “convincing” and “consistent” and combined with the bar manager’s testimony led her to conclude that the complainant’s case was credible.
The assessing officer was satisfied that Ms Farrell had received unwelcome and offensive comments from the general manager and that she had asked him to stop and had complained to other colleagues, including the bar manager, before making the formal complaint.
Ms Buckley said she believed the anonymous letter gave Ms Farrell and Witness AR “courage to bring the formal complaints forward” – adding that she was pleased the complainant had identified a substantive case of sexual harassment.
In order to have a legal defense, the employer would need to show it had policies in place to deter such behavior, Ms Buckley wrote.
However, she noted that none of the employees called by the club were familiar with its bullying and harassment policies; that none of the people to whom Ms Farrell complained were “sufficiently trained” to spot the behavior and escalate the matter, and that the management committee to which she could complain was not easily identifiable.
Ms Buckley also accepted the criticisms of the internal inquiry, noting that the investigator “did not give sufficient weight to the applicant’s account” and should have interviewed more witnesses.
“The comments she endured were totally unacceptable in the mid-range of such behavior and in the modern workplace,” added Ms. Buckley.
Ms Buckley directed the club’s trustees to pay Ms Farrell €25,000 in compensation for discrimination and sexual harassment.
However, she denied the allegation of victimization, noting that the settlement terms proposed by the appeals officer were “clumsy” but that Ms Farrell neither accepted nor forced any of the options on her and continued to work.
https://www.independent.ie/news/brays-old-conna-golf-club-ordered-to-pay-worker-25000-for-being-sexually-harassed-by-general-manager-41889911.html Bray’s Old Conna Golf Club has to pay a worker €25,000 for being sexually harassed by the manager