Mr Martin Sheil, 51, worked for Stena Line Irish Sea Ferries on the docks before he started to experience problems with co-workers last year. Mr Shiels gave evidence to Tribunal in Belfast that he had been subjected to months of ‘banter’ and abuse from colleagues and that after a while he had “had enough” and confronted one of his colleagues about it. His colleague then complained to management and Mr Shiels was subjected to a disciplinary process and subsequently fired. He then made a claim for unfair dismissal, sexual orientation discrimination, and sexual orientation-related harassment to the industrial tribunal in Belfast.
Mr Shiels’ claim came to the industrial tribunal earlier this year, with Mr Shiels arguing that the action that his employer had taken against him had amounted to unfair dismissal as no reasonable employer would have taken the same decision to dismiss him, as well as arguing that the dismissal had been procedurally unfair. He also claimed that the dismissal amounted to sexual orientation discrimination and that he had suffered months of abuse regarding his sexual orientation – abuse that he claimed amounted to unlawful harassment on the grounds of his sexual orientation.
The industrial tribunal upheld Mr Shiels’ claims for sexual orientation-related harassment, sexual orientation discrimination, and unfair dismissal. The tribunal found that Mr Sheil had been subjected to months of abuse and that the company had adopted a “far too passive” attitude towards handling it. Further, the tribunal found that there were sufficient flaws int he investigatory and disciplinary procedure to render the dismissal unfair, and awarded Mr Sheils £45,000 for loss of earnings. However, this was reduced to £37,500 because of reductions to the award for the manner in which Mr Sheil had approached the matter and because there was a 20% chance that Mr Sheil could have been fairly dismissed.
Mr Shiel commented on the case that he used to “shrug off” the comments but that after a while they started to make him “physically sick”.
There appeared to be no comment from Stena Line Irish Sea Ferries or their representatives after the judgment.
Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers must take care not only to ensure that they have equality and anti-discrimination policies in place – they must also ensure that they actively train staff in these policies and enforce the policies. A failure to do so may result in the employer becoming liable for harassment claims in the Employment Tribunal.”