Case Review: Female employee wins £12k in sexual harassment claim

A woman in Northern Ireland brought a case against her employer, Autism Initiatives NI in Belfast, following harassment from a male co-worker.

After raising concerns with her employer over the behaviour of her colleague, she resigned when she felt they were not taking her complaint seriously enough and subsequently brought a claim for constructive dismissal and sexual harassment.

Noeleen McAleenon claimed she had been subjected to inappropriate contact and derogatory comments about her sex life. Her employers interviewed the male employee, who admitted to touching Ms McAleenon and making comments but that they had been made “in fun and banter with no malice”.

The employer took the decision to discipline the male employee with a 12-month written warning but Ms McAleenon was not notified. Unaware of the outcome of the disciplinary action she resigned on 30 April.

The industrial tribunal found in favour of Ms McAleenon, that there had been a sufficiently serious breach of contract which justified her resignation. The tribunal concluded that “the constructive dismissal was bound up with the harassment complaint and thus amounted to an act of sex discrimination and was unfair”.

The industrial tribunal commented further: “This case illustrates the danger of an employer not being proactive in circumstances where members of staff are known to engage in physical contact; the invasion of someone’s space; and to engage in banter which could be construed as sexual harassment.”