Northern Ireland

Polish worker awarded £50k in compensation case

A Polish worker has been awarded more than £50,000 by an industrial tribunal which found she had been racially and sexually discriminated against.

Marzena Urnbanska-Kopowska was employed by Mac's Quality Foods in Dunmurry from September 2006 until July 2008.

The tribunal found she was sexually harassed by a Polish co-worker and racially discriminated against by a local employee of the firm.

It also found that she had been unfairly dismissed.

The claimant's attempts to bring the sexual harassment to the attention of her employers were ignored, the tribunal found.

A Polish co-worker, had stripped to his underwear in front of her each day, pressed himself against her and touched her under the table at the Christmas dinner.

She was also sworn at in Polish by a manager who was from Northern Ireland and made to perform unpleasant tasks that workers from Northern Ireland did not have to do.

She had to clean the toilets and remove dead insects from the top of freezers.

The tribunal found that the various types of conduct by one of her co-workers towards Mrs Urnbanska-Kopowska caused her "feelings of violation, degradation, humiliation and contempt".

John McShane, an employment law specialist with McCartan Turkington Breen solicitors represented Mrs Urnbanska-Kopowska.

He described the facts in the case as "gruesome".

"I got involved when it was clear it was a very complicated case.

"It developed into three strands, constructive dismissal, racial and sexual discrimination.

"She was being treated very differently to other domestic employees.

Horrific

"It got so bad she felt she had no other choice but to resign, which is recognised by the law as constructive dismissal."

Mrs Urnbanska-Kopowska received a total of £52,382 in compensation.

She was awarded £31,049 for unfair dismissal, £20,000 for racial discrimination and sexual harassment and £1,332 in interest.

Mr McShane said the amount of money awarded reflected the severity of the behaviour.

"It's a huge warning to any employer to take the rights of all of your employees seriously.

"It is also key that any issues raised are dealt with properly as the consequences for not following employment law are very serious."

Kevin Doherty from the ICTU's Migrant Workers Unit said it has been "a particularly horrific" case.

"She had very little English and suffered an ongoing period of verbal abuse and some touching," he said.

"We found the employer was not interested and we had no choice but to take legal action."

A statement from Mac's Quality Foods said that in over 30 years of operation the company had never before been accused of racial or sexual discrimination.

"We respect all our employees and treat them equal," the statement said.

"We are disappointed with the findings of the tribunal and the compensation awarded. We represented ourselves at this tribunal and are seeking legal advice regarding this matter."