Northern Ireland

Sex discrimination: AFBI pays £47,500 to settle women's cases

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Media captionCarole Daly (left) and Hollie Lewis alleged that they were subjected to sex discrimination at work, as Martin Cassidy reports

A public body has paid almost £50,000 to settle cases brought by two scientists who alleged they were subjected to sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation at work.

Carole Daly and Hollie Lewis worked at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in south Belfast.

They claimed they were regularly treated less favourably by two male co-workers and were subjected to abuse.

The institute paid £25,000 to Ms Daly and £22,500 to Ms Lewis.

Ms Daly, from Belfast, began working at AFBI in 2013 after returning from maternity leave.

Ms Lewis, from Bangor in County Down, worked with the institute since 2004 and was transferred to the Newforge Lane laboratory in 2014.

Complaints

The women, who worked as assistant scientific officers, alleged that a senior officer frequently described the only male assistant officer as "the top dog" and said female staff were below him, in spite of the fact they were all at the same grade.

Image caption AFBI's chief executive Prof Elaine Watson said the institute had "failed two of our colleagues"

They also claim they were shouted at without justification and that their complaints were not dealt with.

Both women brought complaints to more senior staff and eventually lodged formal grievances, which were rejected.

The women were on sick leave due to work-related stress and Ms Lewis subsequently left her employment under a voluntary exit scheme.

Ms Daly has returned to work for AFBI in another department.

Lucky

"The situation became so difficult it made me ill," Ms Lewis said.

"When I challenged this behaviour and tried to have the situation rectified, I felt nobody took me seriously."

Image copyright Equality Commission
Image caption Ms Lewis (right) said she was told she was "lucky to have a job" when she complained about her treatment

Ms Lewis said she was told she was "lucky to have a job" when she complained that she had her appearance ridiculed and was "looked up and down" by male colleagues.

Ms Daly said she "never envisaged I would experience the type of treatment that I had to endure".

Dignity

Prof Elaine Watson, AFBI's new chief executive, said the institute had "failed two of our colleagues".

She said the settlement meant the women would avoid a lengthy tribunal process, and AFBI's management "apologise unreservedly to both of them and their families for the distress caused".

Eileen Lavery, from the Equality Commission, said women must be "equal participants in all employment fields" and be "treated with dignity and respect".

"It is unacceptable that women can still be subjected to disparaging treatment and find their position in the workplace diminished," she said.

"It is the responsibility of all employers to ensure that where individuals fail to live up to that standard action is taken to deal with it effectively."

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