A Costa Coffee manager sexually harassed a 19-year-old female co-worker when circulating a video of a male barista drawing male genitalia on a flat white coffee.
In the post on a staff Facebook messenger group, the Costa Coffee manager told his colleagues “who does this, I’ll promote him to Barista Maestro straight away with no project”.
This was two days after the manager posted a photo of himself on December 7, 2019, to the same staff group in his boxer shorts or “Santa Panties” before the staff Christmas party.
On Friday, the Labour Court has ordered the Irish operator of Costa Coffee, MBCC Foods Ireland Ltd, to pay the worker, Shauna Quilty, €20,000 compensation for the sexual harassment endured.
Ms Quilty’s solicitor Richard Grogan described the Labour Court ruling as “ground-breaking”.
The award is more than a five-fold increase of the €3,500 Ms Quilty was awarded by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the case came before the Labour Court after Ms Quilty appealed the quantum of the award.
Mr Grogan told the court that concerning the first incident, the Costa Coffee manager posted the photo of himself in his boxer shorts and asked “what about Shauna?” after she earlier didn’t reply when the manager asked where she was.
When asked by a colleague what his “Santa panties” were for, he replied, “who takes them wins the prize”.
Labour Court findings
In its findings, Labour Court chairman Tom Geraghty said Ms Quilty “has a right to go to work without being subjected to unwanted pictures of her manager in his underwear or childish and offensive representations of male genitalia”.
He said: “While the nature of such offensive behaviour may not be in the same category as physical assault, it is considerably more than harmless banter and the court does not concur with the view of the adjudication officer [at the WRC] that the acts fall into the lowest category of misbehaviour.”
Mr Geraghty noted the relevant manager was suspended from work at an early stage, his behaviour was investigated and, as a result, a penalty was imposed on him.
Mr Geraghty said a defence to alleged sexual harassment under the Employment Equality Act is not available to Costa Coffee “because of their failure to take any real steps in advance to protect the complainant from the harassment that she suffered”.
The chairman said the court was left to consider a situation that “is more than just poor behaviour by an individual”.
He later added the court could not ignore the fact that Costa Coffee’s failures offered inadequate protections to Ms Quilty.
He said there was “almost inexplicable inadequacies” in Costa Coffee’s protective procedures.
As part of its order, the Labour Court has ordered that Costa develop a workplace anti-harassment and sexual harassment policy and develop an appropriate social media policy.
Mr Geraghty said the court noted with approval that the coffee retailer had taken some steps to address its deficiencies in this regard.
He also said it was “extraordinarily unsatisfactory” that a social media platform used by employees of Costa Coffee for work purposes was not covered by a social media policy that expressly set out a prohibition on the type of sexual harassment to which Ms Quilty was subjected.
He said: “This failure, again, heightens the sense that while the behaviour of an individual employee gave rise to the complaint, the respondent bears significant responsibility for what occurred”.
Mr Grogan said sexual harassment in the workplace “is an egregious breach of employment rights”.
He said Ms Quilty was “delighted that the decision has gone beyond the compensation but contains a direction for the employer to put in place the appropriate policies and training”.
“She doesn’t want it happening to anyone else. The issue of the money was relevant but only for the purposes of sending out a message that this type of activity is not acceptable.
Mr Grogan described the Costa manager sending the photo of himself in his boxer shorts and the video as “highly offensive”.
He said the Labour Court had effectively for the first time set out the methodology for the valuation of these type of cases.
Mr Grogan said this would have an impact on how Workplace Relations Commission adjudicators decide on the level of awards.
‘A huge move and a game-changer’
He said: “It is a huge move and a game-changer.”
Mr Grogan described this approach by the Labour Court as “an extremely progressive approach by the Labour Court”.
He said: “Hopefully, this will mean that sexual harassment claims are less likely to be fought.”
Mr Grogan said the decision “represents a significant statement by the Labour Court as to what they want to see done in the eradication of sexual harassment in the workplace. It is telling employers this is what you need to do to eradicate it.”
MBCC Foods Ireland Ltd trading as Costa Coffee has been contacted for comment.