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Years of unwanted behaviour is sexual harassment

Posted on 29th July 2010
Case law

Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature stretching back years can be grounds for successful claims for sexual harassment.

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Julie Temple Julie
Temple
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Munchkins Restaurant Ltd v Karmazyn [2010]

Background

In this case, three waitresses at a restaurant (with one, three and five years' service respectively) resigned and brought claims for sexual harassment and constructive unfair dismissal. The complaints were against the restaurants majority shareholder who often talked to them about their sex lives and discussed explicit photographs with them. To make things easier they would ask about his sex life and their manager acted as a buffer. Complaints were raised but nothing was ever done. After the manager herself resigned they all resigned within a period of three months.

The restaurant attempted to argue that the behaviour and conduct could not have been unwanted or enough to justify resignation as the behaviour and conduct had continued for so long. They also argued that as the waitresses had themselves discussed their sex lives they could not say that the behaviour was unwanted.

The decision

The EAT rejected these arguments. The fact that the waitresses had participated in the discussions and put up with the behaviour did not prevent successful claims. A key consideration was that they resigned within a short period after the manager, who had acted as a buffer, resigned.

Comment

This case is a reminder that arguments from employers along the lines 'that is just the atmosphere in the office' or 'but they participated as well' do not prevent liability arising. Employers need to be careful to ensure that any behaviour or conduct that could be perceived as harassment is dealt with and that steps are taken to prevent similar behaviour or conduct in the future.

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