Catholic worker wins pounds 25,000 for discrimination

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The Independent Online
A CATHOLIC woman from west Belfast was awarded record damages of pounds 25,000 yesterday for what a fair employment tribunal described as 'shameful, mean and sectarian treatment' while working for a security firm.

The award came in the latest in a series of cases in which workers have been compensated for sectarian intimidation under strengthened fair employment legislation.

The woman was aged 17 in 1987 when she joined the staff of Securicor, which was based in a Protestant district and had a predominantly Protestant workforce. The tribunal was told that over three years a series of threatening letters had been left on her desk containing messages such as 'UVF - taigs out', 'Fuck Catholics' and 'We know where you live'.

She reported the matter to the police but later withdrew a statement because she was frightened. The tribunal was told she was introduced to people by a supervisor as 'our token taig'. In 1991 she was dismissed for alleged absenteeism. However, the tribunal concluded that Securicor had believed it was easier to get rid of her than stand up to those who taunted her.

The tribunal ruled she had suffered 'discrimination at its most blatant from threats, taunts, abuse, and mockery, culminating in termination of a contract of employment. There was management participation in such acts, and total indifference to the plight of a young employee in her first job'.

The Fair Employment Commission, which supported the case, said sectarian harassment was a particularly vicious form of discrimination which no employer could morally or legally ignore. Most such cases have involved Catholic workers, although in one recent example two young Protestant women successfully complained they had been called 'Orange bitches'.

The escalation of violence late last year was followed by a marked deterioration in community relations, with trade unions reporting that intimidation was worsening.

Terry Carlin, Northern Ireland's senior trade unionist, said recently: 'It's the worst it's been for very many years. I do think they are actually taking us back to the early 1970s. I really don't come across anyone now who doesn't talk about how dreadful it is.

'One union tells me they have not had to deal with as many reports of intimidation or sectarian remarks and tension in the workplace for many, many years.'