Posted: September 20th, 2021
At the Labour Court former barista Shauna Quilty has been awarded €20,000 compensation for sexual harassment at work, to be paid by coffee chain MBCC Foods, trading as Costa Coffee.
The case was before the Labour Court as Ms Quilty was appealing the level of the €3,500 award that had previously been awarded by a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer as a result of the manager’s behaviour being classified as in the ‘less serious’.
When she was aged 19, Ms Quilty was working as a barista in a Costa Coffee store in Belgard in Dublin. She submitted a formal complaint against her manager and sought an official investigation. However, she resigned before the investigation delivered a ruling and outcome.
She made the formal complaint due to the events surrounding an office Christmas Party on December 7 2019. She informed the court that, prior to the party the staff had been conversing in a Facebook Messenger group chat and her manager asked where she was before sharing a picture of himself in his boxer shorts and asked ‘what about Shauna?’ She did not reply to this and when asked by a colleague who the Santa panties were for, the manager answered ‘who takes them wins the prize’.
Ms Quilty went on to describe how subsequently, on December 9, the same manager posted a video on the group chat of a male barista drawing male genitalia on a flat white with the message “who does this, I’ll promote him to barista maestro straight away with no project” and that “we shall start practising from tomorrow”.
At the time of these incidents Ms Quilty was earning the minimum wage for an average of 30 hours every week. Her solicitor, Mr Richard Grogan, informed that court that this case will carry significant implications for employers after the court ordered that a comprehensive sexual harassment policy is created.
He added that the shop manager clearly had no awareness of sexual harassment and the initial reaction of the employer was to consider moving the complainant to another location. Teh employed had admitted that the actions of the manager could be regarded as falling within the definition of sexual harassment and, for that, they (the employer) bore a level of responsibility.
In defence the employer stated that the area manager met with the complainant in January last year where the issue was discussed in detail. However, the employer said these matters were not brought to its attention until an email on January 21 last year and asked why there had been a delay of six weeks for the incidents to be reported. Ms Quilty said the delay in raising a complaint about the posts was due to embarrassment. She said she resigned following consultation with her mother and Mr Grogan.
In the meanwhile the manager was put on suspension and a hearing was arranged. The employer added that Ms Quilty had resigned in February last year and said that she would be withdrawing her complaints. Following this Costa Coffee took the decision to demote the manager in question and move him to an alternative location.
Additionally, an external company was contracted to conduct up to date training for all managers on dignity and respect in the workplace. The employer stated that the offensive content was not persistent and was shared within a group chat of colleagues, including male colleagues, and was not addressed specifically to Ms Quilty.
Deputy chairman of the Labour Court Tom Geraghty ruled that, while the behaviour may not be in the same category as physical assault, it is considerably more than harmless banter. He said: “What can be said in the instant case is that the complainant has a right to go to work without being subjected to unwanted pictures of her manager in his underwear or childish and offensive representations of male genitalia.”
Additionally he said that he was ‘quite shocked’ that such a large employer did not have a clearly set out policy on sexual harassment in place when the incident occurred. The Court ordered the employer to develop a workplace anti-harassment and sexual harassment policy, an anti bullying policy and social media policy.