Sacked after colleague commented on her breasts

A Southland woman was sacked soon after making a complaint against an employee who made a lewd comment about her Tinder profile.

She has now received nearly $45,000 in compensation after the Employment Relations Authority found that her work failed to provide a safe environment for her and then unjustifiably dismissed her.

Gayle Clearwater was working as a salesperson and personal assistant at heating company Rayner in Invercargill in 2017, which has since been sold.

A colleague, Larry Thompson, told two of Clearwater's co-workers that he had seen her Tinder dating profile and falsely claimed that it "had a picture of her tits" on it.

Clearwater, who said this was false, confronted Thompson in a workshop and told him to "shut his mouth" and not "lie about s***".

She made a written complaint the following day to the operations manager Mariska Du Preez and the chief executive, and said she did not want to be in the same room as Thompson. She also showed the operations manager her Tinder profile picture, which showed just her head and shoulders.

Because the CEO was away, the operations manager sought help with the complaint process from the financial controller, William Potter.

Clearwater said Potter told her that Thompson's conduct was not "full on" harassment - a comment which indicated to her that her complaint would not be taken seriously.

In an interview with Du Preez, Thompson "effectively acknowledged" he had told colleagues that Clearwater "had her breasts out on Tinder" and said it was "boys talk".

Potter decided that Thompson should remain at the workplace while the complaint was being investigated, despite Clearwater's view that he should have been suspended. He was told to stay away from her, but Du Preez said this was difficult because their jobs required regular interaction.

Clearwater said he deliberately interacted with her and she felt threatened on two occasions.

No action was taken against Thompson, so Clearwater took out a personal grievance against him on October 4, 2017.

Five days later, she was told by Potter that Rayner's Invercargill branch was part of a proposed restructuring and if it went ahead she would be made redundant.

The company said the restructuring was genuine but Clearwater alleged it was linked to her personal grievance case.

Employment Relations Authority member Andrew Dallas ruled that Rayner's treatment of Clearwater was "not the actions of a fair and reasonable employer" and that she had a personal grievance against the company for failing to provide her with a safe environment.

It also said she was unjustifiably dismissed because her redundancy was "carried out for a pre-determined ulterior purpose other than for genuine business reasons as permitted by law".

She was awarded $14,095 in lost wages and $30,000 for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.


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