Belfast Telegraph

Stena Line to pay £45,000 to worker who lost job after homophobic harassment

By Adrian Rutherford

Stena Line has been ordered to pay £45,000 to a former employee who was the victim of homophobic bullying after a tribunal ruled it did little to stop the harassment.

Belfast docker Martin Sheil suffered daily abuse at work because of his sexual orientation.

However, a tribunal said his employers took "a far too passive" attitude to the issue.

It also upheld Mr Sheil's complaint that he had been unfairly dismissed following an incident with another staff member who had been taking part in the abuse.

Dr Michael Wardlow from the Equality Commission said employers had a duty to protect staff and keep abuse out of the workplace.

"Everyone in the workplace – management and staff – must be aware that one person's banter is another person's abuse," he said.

Mr Sheil said it had been a difficult period in his life.

"My job at Stena was very important to me and I worked hard to keep my private life and work life separate," he said. "I endured months of abuse in silence.

"The reason I took this case was to try and make sure that others don't have to go through this."

Mr Sheil (51), who is from Belfast, had worked as a post operative with Stena Line since 2002.

An industrial tribunal found he had been subjected to comments which amounted to harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation over a period of weeks or months.

In November 2012 Mr Sheil was travelling on a work minibus when a colleague said: "Some people in here should come out of the closet."

Mr Sheil said the same man had made various indirect remarks about his personal life and sexual orientation during the previous year.

The following day Mr Sheil was involved in an incident with the man, which resulted in him being dismissed for gross misconduct.

Setting a total award of £45,000 to Mr Sheil – £37,500 for his unfair dismissal and £7,500 for harassment at work – the tribunal stated that "the flaws in the investigatory and disciplinary procedure render the dismissal substantively unfair" and that the company had "adopted a far too passive approach to unpleasant banter".

It found Stena's disciplinary hearing was flawed, in that the company did not investigate Mr Sheil's allegations of derogatory remarks about his sexuality and subsequently did not consider whether his allegations constituted mitigating circumstances.

It was also critical of Stena's focus on the incident rather than on the events that led up to it.

The Equality Commission, which supported Mr Sheil's case, welcomed the ruling. Dr Wardlow said: "This case shows the terrible impact on an individual who faced daily abuse at work because of his sexual orientation."

In a statement Stena Line said: "Stena Line is disappointed by the tribunal's decision in relation to Mr Sheil and has lodged an appeal in respect of their decision, which is scheduled to take place in the Court of Appeal in September 2014."

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