£47k sex bias payout for female scientists at Belfast quango who were told male colleague was 'top dog'
Two women who claimed that they were told a man of the same grade in the company where they worked was “the top dog” have received a sex discrimination settlement of more than £47,000.
Hollie Lewis (31), from Bangor, and Carole Daly (29), from Belfast, were working as assistant scientific officers at the Agri-Food and Bio-sciences Institute.
Hollie claims that her male boss made comments about what she was wearing and said that when she wore bright lipstick she was “attention-seeking”.
She said: “He would have looked me up and down and said things like, ‘What are you doing to these boys Hollie?’ My appearance should have nothing to do with how I carry out my job.”
Hollie had worked for the institute for more than 10 years when she was moved to his laboratory in 2014. She worked alongside Carole, who had joined the laboratory when she returned from maternity leave in 2013. She had worked elsewhere in AFBI since 2009.
Both women claim that they were left out of meetings with senior management but the male ASO of the same grade was permitted to attend and then he would withhold information that meant they could not carry out their jobs properly.
Hollie said that she was told that although he was at the same level as the women, he was the “top dog” and that his female colleagues were below him.
Carole also said she felt she was singled out because she worked part-time hours and was told that if she did not change her hours to suit her boss, she would lose her job.
The women took their complaints to senior management and their human resources department but said that they felt they were not listened to and nothing was done.
They said they dreaded going to work and were forced to take time off work with stress because of the complaints.
Carole was eventually moved to another laboratory within the institute but Hollie decided to leave AFBI under a voluntary exit scheme because of the discrimination.
She said: “I felt that I had no option other than to leave because of what was going on. I left voluntarily but it wasn’t something I had ever wanted. I saw my career there for a long time.”
The cases were settled with the assistance of the Equality Commission.
The institute paid £25,000 to Carole and £22,000 to Hollie and apologised for the injury to feelings, upset and distress suffered by the women.
Carole said: “Even when there’s guidelines set, these things can still be going on and when that’s brought to them, they need to be able to deal with it and follow these policies.
“I am happy that the case has now been resolved and I am continuing to develop my career with the institute.”
Hollie said: “They didn’t follow guidelines and that made the situation so much worse. It was so institutionalised that a lot of the women that we spoke to accepted what was happening.
“I am pleased that the institute has now apologised for the upset and distress I suffered and that it will be reviewing its policies, practices and procedures with the Equality Commission.”
AFBI chief executive officer Professor Elaine Watson said: “I and my senior colleagues in AFBI regret the circumstances which led to this situation and I can also confirm that, since my arrival [in June 2016], I am committed to driving out any unacceptable behaviour by any member of our workforce.
“In this case AFBI failed two of our colleagues and acknowledges that more could have been done to support them. AFBI looks positively towards an opportunity to work more closely with the ECNI to ensure this never happens again.”