Payout for sex victim of Masons

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The Independent Online
THE FREEMASONS have agreed to review the way they treat female employees after a woman clerk accepted an undisclosed sum in settlement of a claim of sexual harassment by a senior Mason.

The out-of-court settlement saved the Masons from a potentially embarrassing two-day industrial tribunal, due to begin yesterday, which would have shone an unwanted spotlight on the inner workings of the United Grand Lodge, the headquarters of English and Welsh Freemasonry.

Sheila Delaney reached a settlement with lawyers representing the lodge after claiming that she was subjected to a four-year campaign of sexual intimidation.

Ms Delaney had alleged that while she worked at the building in Great Queen Street, central London, comments were made about her nipples and breasts and she was subjected to unwanted physical contact by a senior colleague. Since Ms Delaney's complaints, the lodge has employed a human resources consultant to review its employment practices.

While not admitting liability, the lodge released a joint statement with McDonagh and Associates, the London solicitors representing Ms Delaney, saying: "The United Grand Lodge of England very much regrets the circumstances which have led to Ms Delaney's complaints and has determined to ensure that such a situation does not reoccur.

"[The]United Grand Lodge has retained a professional human resources consultant to assist the organisation in reviewing its policies and practices and in implementing an education and training programme for its staff."

Before the statement was issued, Ms Delaney, 39, from Hampstead, north- west London, said of the lodge: "It is a male-dominated environment and there is a disrespect for women."

At the height of the campaign of alleged harassment, Ms Delaney submitted an article to the magazine, Freemasonry Today, describing the conditions she had to work under.

The article was not published but prompted an internal investigation that led to a senior Mason being called before a disciplinary hearing last September.

The Mason admitted some of the charges against him and was found guilty of gross misconduct. But the Masons' grand secretary, Jim Daniel, decided the offences did not warrant dismissal and, despite the protests of Ms Delaney, allowed him to return to his previous post the same month.

Ms Delaney told The Independent she could not sleep the night before the senior Mason returned to work. "I felt as if I had to go in and show willing but I could not cope. I left at one o'clock and cried all the way home. People on the Tube thought I was mentally ill," she said.

On the advice of a doctor she took sick leave and has not been back to work for four months. She alleged that her treatment caused her to lose ten pounds in weight as she suffered humiliation, demoralisation and lack of confidence.

Mr Daniel said after the settlement: "There was an investigation. I had a panel and I had independent people on that panel with expert advice and they upheld some of the allegations. The complainant was not happy with some of the remedies put forward by the panel but has now agreed to settle and the matter is now closed."

In support of her case, Ms Delaney was due to call as a witness a second female employee, Donna Hanson, who reached an out-of-court settlement with the Masons after bringing her own action for sexual discrimination.

Freemasonry, which is known to members as "The Craft", has gone to great lengths in recent years to dispel its reputation for secrecy. It maintains that it is simply a private organisation, no more secret than any other that chooses not to disclose details of its membership.

The United Grand Lodge, which traces its origins back to 1717, oversees the administration of more than 7,800 lodges in England and Wales, with a collective membership of some 350,000.