Zero hours waitress wins £20,000 in sexual harassment claim

hmctsA waitress who was working on a zero-hours contract has won her legal claims against a hotel chain after her manager made inappropriate actions and comments towards her.

Lucy Southern won £20,000 at the Leeds Employment Tribunal after it was found that her line manager had sexually harassed her and had subjected her to sex discrimination.

Ms Southern, who worked on a zero-hours contract behind the bar at the Britannia Hotel in Leeds, was subjected to inappropriate touching, kissing and comments by her manager, Alex Nkoroi. An investigation was then carried out by the hotel chain, which found that no disciplinary sanction was appropriate.

Ms Southern issued her Employment Tribunal claims for direct sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and indirect discrimination in 2013 and they came to the Employment Tribunal earlier this year. Ms Southern, giving evidence at the Tribunal, stated that the following had occurred:

  • That Mr Nkoroi asked her about her sex life and whether she wore stockings in bed
  • That Mr Nkoroi began touching her, slapping her bottom, and kissing her on the neck in October 2013
  • That he also stood behind her to “grind” up and down her back and later stroked her back and prodded her in a private area with a pen
  • That she first complained in August 2013 but nothing was done. When she submitted a further complaint a manager chose not to take disciplinary action against Mr Nkoroi
  • That a further investigation was carried out by the hotel after the Employment Tribunal application was lodged but that this also found that Mr Nkoroi had only engaged in one inappropriate action – the kissing on the neck – and, further, that Ms Southern had encouraged this

Ms Southern’s claim came to the Employment Tribunal earlier this year, with both Ms Southern and Mr Nkoroi giving evidence. Mr Nkoroi, a practicing Christian who swore on the Bible, refused to deny the accusations, although he claimed that he had forgotten some and that some of the touching might have been accidental. He further stated that he may have had a conversation with Ms Southern regarding her sexual activities but that this would have been in the context of a discussion about his religious beliefs. He further gave evidence that – prior to the issue of the Employment Tribunal claim – he had not received any equality or diversity training.

The Employment Tribunal found in Ms Southern’s favour in her claims against Britannia Hotels and Mr Nkoroi for sexual harassment and direct sex discrimination, although it rejected her claim for indirect sex discrimination. The Tribunal awarded Ms Southern £19,500 as compensation for her injury to feelings, finding that the conduct complained of had been over an extended period of time, that the employer had had the means of addressing the problem and had failed to do so, and that the actions had had a magnified impact upon Ms Southern because of mental health issues that she suffered.

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans Solicitors, commented on the news: “Employers should ensure that staff undergo equality and diversity training and, further, that any complaints of harassment, discrimination or victimisation are thoroughly investigated and properly dealt with. A failure to do so can result in expensive and potentially embarrassing Employment Tribunal litigation.”