Tribunal told of firm's 'sex-doll' dinner

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A computer saleswoman yesterday told an industrial tribunal of her horror at being forced to sit next to a blow-up sex doll at her firm's prize-giving dinner.

Debbie John, 36, from Plymouth, Devon, says she was enraged by the torrent of sexual innuendo and felt that women were degraded by the antics at the dinner for 37 employees of Servo Computers, of Matlock, Derbyshire.

Ms John, who was later made redundant from her job in the firm's Exeter office after 14 months' service, is alleging sexual harassment at an industrial tribunal at Plymouth.

Joanna Traynor, of Sparkwell, Plymouth, who was a sales manager, is also alleging sexual harassment, saying that she was forced to leave because of victimisation.

She said the chief executive, Bill Smith, called her a "frightening black lesbian" in his "awards" speech at the dinner.

Ms John said that Mr Smith threw packets of condoms around at the dinner.

"I found it personally degrading," she said. She had become increasingly angry that women were being made the object of sexual fun. One female colleague was "awarded" a chocolate penis.

Ms John said that the blow-up doll was placed next to her at the dinner table.

She said: "I was too frightened to leave or move the doll itself. If I moved I would have become the subject of personal ridicule by Mr Smith."

Servo Computers said Mr Smith made "an after-dinner speech which took the form of a silly awards ceremony which contained risque innuendo" but denies discrimination.

The firm's barrister, Nicholas Nichol, suggested that Ms Traynor's memory of the evening might have been impaired by the three glasses of wine she drank.

Asked about her allegation that Mr Smith had called her a lesbian, she said that when she told him her partner was an antiques dealer, he replied: " 'Oh, he is a he?' He had already asked me if I was a lesbian."

The hearing continues.