Teen Baker Wins Sexual Harassment Case After Employer Gives Her a ‘Bear Hug’ and Backs Her into a Corner

In Miss Holly Merriman v Bugibba Independent Limited, a teen baker won £31,410.91 following sexual harassment and victimisation. This came after Miss Merriman was backed into a corner, bear-hugged, and groped before her employer dismissed her. Delve into this article as we explore the events and outline the employment tribunal’s decision.

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The Facts in Miss Holly Merriman v Bugibba Independent Limited

Sexual Harassment Case Background

Miss Holly Merriman (“The Claimant”) began working as a decorator for Bugibba Independent Limited (“The Respondent”) on 21 October 2020. Her role comprised decorating doughnuts made by the bakers.

Between late December 2020 and early January 2021, an incident occurred involving the claimant, who was 17 at the time, and one of the respondent’s bakers, Oliver Horn. The teen baker explained how, when they were alone, Mr Horn bear-hugged her, grabbed her bottom and backed her into a corner. She claimed that he said, “I bet your boyfriend wouldn’t like that”, to which she replied, “I bet your missus wouldn’t”.

Immediately after the incident, the claimant confided about the unfolding events in Hanna Didluch, a supervisor of the respondent. The tribunal learned that the claimant appeared “extremely distressed” during this conversation.

Despite her distress, though, the claimant chose not to escalate the incident further. This was partly because she was apprehensive about her position given Mr Horn’s longer tenure with the respondent. Additionally, having previously maintained a positive working relationship, she hesitated to cause him trouble.

However, after the incident, their relationship “soured”. Allegations surfaced that Mr Horn demeaned her by referring to her as a “pot washer” and frequently mentioning his higher pay. Furthermore, the claimant asserted that he once asked if she had any gum, stating she needed it for bad breath.

Teen Baker Reports the Incident

On 28 March 2021, the situation between the claimant and Mr Horn reached a critical point. Mr Horn, who had been seeking another of the respondent’s supervisors, Nicola Caley, inquired to the claimant about her whereabouts. Here, the claimant informed him that Ms Caley was attending to a distressed colleague and suggested he address the matter at a more suitable moment.

Unfortunately, Mr Horn didn’t take this response kindly, demanding to see Ms Caley and shouting at the claimant. This confrontation upset the teen baker, prompting her to tell a colleague that it was fortunate she hadn’t reported him, referring to the prior incident.

When Mr Horn caught wind of what she’d said, he reportedly shouted, “Holly come the f*ck here”. Feeling frightened, she refused, and he subsequently walked away, saying, “f*ck you”.

Later that day, Ms Caley became aware of the events and spoke individually with those involved. The tribunal noted that Ms Caley already had some awareness of the situation, having overheard Mr Horn shouting at the claimant. However, once she grasped the full seriousness of the matter, she involved Max Poynton, one of the respondent’s directors.

During their initial conversation, the claimant disclosed both the prior incident and the recent events. Then, once Ms Caley and Mr Poynton spoke with the claimant and Mr Horn, both were sent home on full pay.

In the subsequent investigations, two other staff members were interviewed. One claimed awareness of the incident and noted that Mr Horn and the teen baker had engaged in ‘flirty banter’ before the incident, which changed afterwards. The other stated they’d not witnessed anything except Mr Horn once having the claimant’s phone. This marked the conclusion of the investigation. 

Respondent Dismisses Teen Baker – Prompting Employment Tribunal Proceedings

When Mr Horn returned to work, Mr Poynton met with him to reassure him that no further action would be taken. He then informed the claimant that she would need to attend a meeting later that day.

When the claimant attended the meeting, accompanied by Miss Didluch, she found Mr Horn and another of the respondent’s directors, Matthew Bond, also in attendance. Unsurprisingly, Mr Horn’s presence created an unpleasant atmosphere. During the meeting, the claimant was told that the respondent hadn’t found evidence to substantiate her allegations and, as such, expressed a necessity to be impartial.

The tribunal learned that the respondent pressured the claimant to “draw a line under matters”, causing her significant distress. Despite her dissatisfaction with this outcome, she reluctantly accepted the resolution due to her emotional state.

However, after the meeting concluded, the teen baker informed Miss Didluch of her dissatisfaction. Miss Didluch, who was also angry about the outcome, spoke with the directors, highlighting the claimant’s distress and asserting that the matter hadn’t been handled appropriately.

Then, on 28 April, the claimant received a letter from Carol Bond, the respondent’s HR manager. It stated, “​​I am writing to advise that we can no longer support your employment as a Decorating Specialist within the Company”. The letter comprised the claimant’s termination of employment, and although her last shifts were on 3 and 9 May, they requested these be taken as garden leave.

Consequently, the teen baker initiated employment tribunal proceedings. She put forward a sexual harassment case, which included claims of victimisation.

The Employment Tribunal’s Judgment

Once proceedings concluded, the tribunal relayed their findings. They began by dealing with the claim of sexual harassment. Since Mr Horn had grabbed the claimant’s bottom, they ruled this amounted to conduct of a sexual nature. 

Furthermore, because the conduct was unwanted and made the claimant feel uncomfortable, they ruled it had the purpose of violating her dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her. As such, the tribunal ruled sexual harassment had occurred.

Moving on, the tribunal deliberated over the claim of victimisation, where the claimant alleged she’d been treated less favourably after reporting the harassment. The tribunal pointed to the respondent’s statement during investigations that no evidence had been found to substantiate the claimant’s allegations and held this simply couldn’t have been the case.

They said, “There was more evidence than there was not to suggest that something had happened… the respondent simply decided to overlook that and carried out a woefully inadequate investigation”. In the tribunal’s view, it was easier for the respondent to overlook the inappropriate conduct than to make a finding.

Furthermore, regarding the claimant’s dismissal, the respondent reasoned that it resulted from a “downturn in work”. They stated that after a busy Easter period, demand for doughnuts had dropped. As such, they claimed that the services of the teen baker were no longer required.

However, the tribunal didn’t accept this. From documents provided during proceedings, they learned that the respondent was growing rapidly. In fact, their products were so popular that they were struggling to keep up with demands and were actively recruiting. Therefore, the tribunal deemed the “inadequate investigation” and dismissal without proper explanation amounted to victimisation.

Remedy Hearing

Once the teen baker won her claims of sexual harassment and victimisation, her case was scheduled for a remedy hearing. There, it was revealed that, due to the events endured, the claimant had been seeing a trauma coach.

As such, in light of the successful claims and consequences of the events, the remedy tribunal awarded the claimant £31,410.91. This comprised £25,409.36 for injury to feelings and £6,001.55 for financial losses.

If you have questions or have faced something similar to the teen baker, contact Redmans Solicitors today. We are employment law specialists and can provide expert advice following a quick chat.

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