Limavady woman awarded £25k in sexual discrimination tribunal

Pacemaker Press Belfast 24-07-2018:   Claimant Mrs Sharon Douglas pictured in Limavady, Northern ireland.'Picture By: Arthur Allison.
Pacemaker Press Belfast 24-07-2018: Claimant Mrs Sharon Douglas pictured in Limavady, Northern ireland.'Picture By: Arthur Allison.

A Limavady woman has received £25,000 from Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council in settlement of a case she brought alleging sex discrimination.

The case was settled without admission of liability by the council.

Sharon Douglas, who resigned from her position in May 2018, was assisted in the case by the Equality Commission.

Ms Douglas had been the only female employed in the Technical Services section of the council’s Environmental Services Department.

She was based in the Limavady Depot as a storeperson and alleged that she was discriminated against in the allocation of overtime and training facilities and subjected to harassment.

“Other employees in the yard – all men – were allowed to put themselves forward for overtime on Saturdays and public holidays but when I asked to be considered in the same way, I was refused,” she claimed.

“The reasons given made no sense to me. I was told it was because I hadn’t been trained on some of the machines but, when I asked for training, that was also refused.”

She claimed that when she complained about her treatment and made reference to sex discrimination it was responded to with ‘abusive language’.

Ms Douglas also alleged she was asked to go to another site when inspectors were visiting to clean the kitchen and the toilets because they needed ‘a woman’s touch’

She took a grievance which, after several meetings, was rejected.

In the course of an investigation her colleagues were asked if they would be ‘OK’ working alongside her in another amenity site and it was reported that they would not be. The reason given was a fear of the position a man might be in ‘if she accuses me of something up in that yard’.

Ms Douglas said: “The whole thing affected me badly and I was off work with stress. When I raised the issue directly, and flagged up my concern that this was sex discrimination, the first response I got was rude and dismissive.

“Later, when I complained through the Council’s grievance procedures, I was very dissatisfied with the length of the process and the way it was handled. I was deeply hurt and upset, both by my initial treatment and the way my complaints were dealt with.”

Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission, said: “This is a case in which a woman, in a minority of one in an otherwise male workforce, feels she was excluded from benefits and advantages which were available to her male colleagues, such as training and access to overtime.

“She was only asking to be given the same opportunities as the men working alongside her, but the responses she got worsened, rather than helped, her situation.

“Asking her colleagues whether they would be ‘okay’ working alongside her was unlikely to have been asked about a male employee and, of course, saying that cleaning the toilets ‘needed a woman’s touch’ was a direct and inappropriate reference to her gender.”

Mr Wardlow added: “Employers must make sure, not only that they have such policies in place, but that all their staff are fully aware of the importance the employer places on implementing them.

“The council has agreed to consider all reasonable recommendations the commission may make regarding any amendments to policies and the training of staff.”