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Catholic chef awarded £22,500 over alleged harassment

A Catholic woman from the Republic who said she was subjected to sexual and sectarian harassment working for a major Northern Ireland caterer has settled a case against the company for £22,500.

Gillian O'Rourke was working as a chef for Mount Charles Catering where she said she was subjected to sectarian chanting, inappropriate touching and threats of violence.

The 28-year-old complained about the colleague she claimed was intimidating her, but when she felt her employer failed to take appropriate action she launched a case against the company.

Ms O'Rourke was supported by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and took a case to the Fair Employment Tribunal.

Director of Legal Casework at the Equality Commission Anne McKernan said the case underscored the need for employers to tackle abuse in the workplace.

"This case highlights the fact that people in Northern Ireland are still experiencing harassment during their working day and this must be challenged," said Ms McKernan.

"Employers cannot be complacent. They have a duty of care to their employees.

"They must ensure that robust and clear policies are in place to prevent instances of harassment and that they deal with them clearly and speedily when they do occur."

Ms O'Rourke claimed she had been subjected to harassment that took the form of inappropriate touching, inappropriate sexual comments, inappropriate sexual conduct, intimidating sectarian chanting and threats of physical violence.

The Equality Commission confirmed Ms O'Rourke was originally from the Republic but could release no further details on her.

The organisation said she had first raised her concerns with her employer and only later sought outside assistance.

Ms McKernan said: "Gillian sought to address the harassment she had experienced within the company's own structures. She was not satisfied however that the internal grievance procedure dealt adequately with her complaints.

"She believed that the disciplinary action taken against the staff member concerned was inappropriate due to the nature and gravity of his conduct. She was disappointed that he was not moved from the workplace and instead she was forced to continue to work alongside him."

She said the Equality Commission can provide advice and assistance to people who believe they have been subjected to harassment at work and said there is no room for discriminatory behaviour in society.

Mount Charles Catering has agreed to meet the Equality Commission to review its policies and procedures to ensure they are effective and conform with legislation and guidelines.

The company has also agreed to take steps to implement any reasonable recommendations the Commission may make on issues such as staff training.

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