Employment tribunal hands down damning verdict on Derbyshire sexual harassment at work case
The Employment Tribunal has handed down a damning judgment against Highways England following a successful claim for sexual harassment, direct discrimination and discriminatory dismissal brought by Derbyshire woman Kim Beaney.
Beaney brought her claim against Highways England and two individual employees: her line manager, Grant Bosence, and her supervisor when she began the job, Steven Curtis. She has been awarded £74,000 in compensation, including a “significant” sum in injury to feelings and aggravated damages.
Her case is believed to be the first high profile successful sexual harassment claim in the UK that can be fully reported since the beginning of the #MeToo movement.
Beaney brought an Employment Tribunal claim after being harassed for months by Bosence, which began the day she interviewed for the job of Highways Inspection Driver and continued over a period of months. This included numerous sexual advances and physical contact from Bosence and pressure to begin a romantic relationship, despite her repeated efforts to keep the relationship purely platonic. She was then subjected to further harassment by his friend, Curtis, when she began the role.
Beaney felt she had no option but to continue to speak to Bosence for fear of losing her job; he would make reference to work during their exchanges, including that he was responsible for “hiring and firing”, and that he was not to be crossed.
The Employment Tribunal found that Beaney had been the victim of numerous acts of harassment. It also heavily criticised the grievance and grievance appeal procedure carried out by Highways England in relation to Beaney’s complaints, ruling that the grievance outcome, conduct of the grievance appeal hearing and appeal outcome, all amounted to acts of harassment, and ruled that her subsequent resignation amounted to a dismissal as her position had become untenable. The tribunal found the grievance procedure was “atrociously poor” and “shambolic”.
On 16 February 2017 Beaney attended an interview for the role of Highways Inspection Driver and was interviewed by Bosence and a member of the Highways England HR team. On the evening of the interview contact from Bosence first began as he had taken Beaney’s contact number from her application form.
Bosence told Beaney that he had received her reference from previous employers and that they were “not good”, but that he would sort it. However, it was later revealed that no poor references had been received. Contact from Bosence became more inappropriate as time went on with him referring to what “would be nice” to see under her workwear and asking her what “a dinner was worth in sexual favours”.
Beaney told the tribunal that she felt awkward and uneasy regarding the contact but ultimately that she had to continue the interaction or risk losing the job before she even began. In total 2,500 text and Facebook messages were exchanged, as well as meetings in person.
The tribunal found that Beaney was concerned from the beginning about the tone and nature of the contact, and that she “played along… as she felt she had no alternative but to do so”. At one point when Beaney told Bosence that she could report him to HR he made reference to the fact he could have her “killed and buried for four grand”.
Beaney finally started work on 3 April 2017. She was told by Bosence to report to the Highways England depot in Sandiacre, where she would work with Curtis. The tribunal found that Bosence had engineered to have Beaney work with Curtis so that he could exert further control over her.
On 17 April Beaney raised a grievance with HR. Despite upholding her grievance in part, Highways England refused her request to move depots. Beaney appealed her grievance but this was not upheld and she says she was left with no alternative but to resign.
Beaney said: “I saw this job as a chance to begin a new career and I felt it was a role which had good future prospects that would allow me to provide for my family. Instead I suffered months of harassment which has a profound impact on me.
“I have been determined to have this case heard in public so that it can be reported and others will hopefully see that this sort of harassment is not right and that there are laws in place that can protect women from such harassment.
“On top of having to deal with the inappropriate and unwanted attention from two men who had direct power over my job, I was then left horrified by the response of Highways England to my complaints, I didn’t feel like they took it seriously at all and I was not believed from the outset.”
Nick Webster, employment solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, added: “The employment tribunal judgment is a resounding condemnation of the way that Kim was treated at Highways England, and we hope it may provide comfort or confidence to others who may be in a similar situation to seek advice. Kim was treated appallingly by those in a position of power and trust at Highways England, and when she sought to express her concerns, hoping for support, she was subjected to further harassment and discriminatory conduct.
“It is particularly noteworthy that the tribunal found that the manner in which Highways conducted Kim’s grievance amounted to further acts of harassment – this is quite unusual and shows how terribly her situation was handled, particularly given she was a vulnerable person who had been subjected to a campaign of harassment.
“Kim’s situation is sadly not uncommon. This judgment should be a clear warning to all employers to ensure that they have robust procedures in place which prevent this sort of behaviour and that when staff express concerns they are adequately supported with a thorough and balanced investigation, not doubted from the off.”