Female bricklayer awarded pounds 15,000: Council employee suffered four years of continual sexual harassment and threats from her colleagues

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The Independent Online
A FEMALE bricklayer has won pounds 15,000 compensation from a local authority employer after suffering four years of physical and verbal harassment from male workmates.

Yesterday Tracie Simpson, 28, told how workmates downed tools to watch her work, refused to talk to her on site except to shout abuse, sexually harassed her and threatened her with violence when she talked back.

On one occasion a workmate asked whether her spirit level fitted in her vagina and on another a male colleague chased her, threatening to cut her pubic hair. One 'mentor' spent most of his time asking her whether a female plumber in another depot was a lesbian.

Ms Simpson, of Greenwich, south London, complained repeatedly to managers at Greenwich council. She said they did nothing to help.

'I learned not to go to management. Once when I complained I was called to the office by the boss and a general foreman. The boss, who was in charge of 100 workers, said I should go home that night and wash very, very carefully because I was to have a medical examination next day. He was just being dirty. The foreman asked why I didn't wear frilly red underwear and everyone would do my work for me.

'There were six women taken on as carpenters, plumbers and bricklayers with me. Within two years they all left.

'One woman who was being harassed went to the council's women's unit. She was removed from her depot for two weeks. When she returned no one would speak to her. She left. There was nowhere to go for help.'

Ms Simpson was eventually made redundant while on sick leave with stress and anxiety. Though her allegations of sexual and racial discrimination and unfair dismissal were made beyond the official time limit for an industrial tribunal, a preliminary hearing decided unanimously to allow her case to continue. Greenwich council then reached an out-of- court settlement with Ucatt, the building workers' union, which represented Ms Simpson.

In the tribunal's preliminary judgement it accepted Ms Simpson was 'subject to considerable sexual and racial harassment' which was known to the council and that some was committed by lower tiers of management. The harassment was 'all too familiar' and amounted to cruelty. The council took no effective action to deal with the situation.

Ms Simpson, who gained a credit for her practical work in her City and Guilds exam, said yesterday: 'Not one man broke ranks. They were all pretty gutless. The council wanted me to file a complaint against an individual but that would have meant filing at least 20 complaints. Everyone colluded with what went on.

'I got the chance to do some bricklaying by accident and I picked it up straight away. I was good at it and I worked hard. But it was trouble from day one.

'I was isolated and spent my lunchbreaks alone. I spent most of my evening and weekends worrying and crying. What really finished me off was learning that no other women were being taken on by the council. I had thought I could keep going until then.'

A spokesman for Greenwich council said he accepted 'there was some substance to some of Tracie's allegations'. He said that the management of director services had been overhauled since Ms Simpson left and that a new complaints procedure was in place for harassment and victimisation complaints. No one had been disciplined over her complaints.

Dominic Hehir, Ucatt's London secretary, said: 'Greenwich council has a wonderful equal opportunities policy on paper - but in practice it hasn't existed.'

But the tribunal also criticised Ucatt for failing to support Ms Simpson at a lower level. Ms Simpson has no plans to return to the construction industry and is now doing youth work.

Oliver Westmorland, 36, was the victim of 'blatant sexual discrimination' when he was refused an interview for a secretarial job because he was a man, an industrial tribunal ruled yesterday.

Mr Westmorland, a well-qualified and experienced personal assistant from St Neots, Cambridgeshire, was awarded pounds 350 for injury to his feelings after being rejected by Jugstar, a property company based in Harley Street, London. The tribunal in Croydon, south London, heard that Mr Westmorland had worked as a secretary for six years but since the appointment at Jugstar on 18 June last year he had been unemployed.

(Photograph omitted)