Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Ex-bank workers appeal dismissal for 'porn' emails

Two former female bank workers are appealing a decision to fire them after they circulated emails containing pictures described as "extreme and revolting porn".

The women, who were employed by the ICS Building Society, claim a culture of passing around "jocular" emails existed at the company before they were dismissed and that they were targeted because they were both junior and female.

Sarah Murray (25), from Ballybrack in Dublin, and Sarah Rooney (25), from Glasthule, were both dismissed from their positions at the firm, a division of Bank of Ireland, in September 2009.

They were part of a group of 10 who were disciplined after management at the bank found they had circulated emails that the financial institution said were in breach of its guidelines.

Among the messages passed both within the firm and to outside companies was a series entitled 'Men in Training'.

It shows a young boy urinating against a wall and a toddler standing beside a topless woman on the beach.

Yesterday, an appeal against their dismissal started at the Employment Appeals Tribunal in Dublin.

The pair claimed there was a widespread culture of circulating the "humorous" type of emails around both junior and senior staff.

Workers at the building society regularly gathered around computer monitors to look at the email attachments and they were simply intended as being "jocular", it was claimed.

The issue emerged in January 2009, when the bank was carrying out a separate probe into two other employees over a threatening email.

When management looked at the email traffic, they found "highly inappropriate" material which had been circulated, Larry O'Gara, from the Bank of Ireland's human resources department, said.

After an investigation, Ms Murray and Ms Rooney and three others were dismissed while another five were disciplined with a final written warning and a week's unpaid leave.

One of those who was dismissed subsequently had the decision overturned on appeal.

"My view was it was indecent, obscene, pornographic and not related to the job," Mr O'Gara said.

He said he was also concerned that there were "live children" involved and questioned whether the images contravened the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act.

No complaint was ever made to gardai.

The bank's counsel, Tom Mallon, said the material was "extreme and revolting porn" and the pair were guilty of multiple breaches of the company's policies.

"They were validly and fairly dismissed," he said.

However, Kevin D'Arcy, for the two women, said the emails were commonly sent around the company, a practice which everyone knew about and accepted. Team leaders and other superiors knew about it and some participated, he said.

A proper investigation had not taken place, said Mr D'Arcy, and the women's superiors had been neither investigated nor admonished.

All but one of the 10 suspended or dismissed were female and all were of a junior rank.

For those reasons, the dismissals were unfair, said Mr D'Arcy. "This was no more than a culling exercise to get rid of staff," he added.

The bank has denied that anyone was targeted in the investigation and said the practice was not commonplace.

Ms Murray told bank staff at the time she never thought the issue would come to what it did and that she hoped others she worked with would also be investigated. The hearing will resume in July.

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz