A fashion company chief executive hacked into a female colleague’s phone and downloaded intimate photos of her, an unfair dismissal case has heard.
Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Kevin Baneham noted the “odious” hacking as he ordered the unnamed company to pay the woman €65,000 in compensation over persistent sexual harassment by the chief executive.
He also ordered the company to pay the complainant, a sales and marketing executive originally from Brazil, €25,000 over her unfair dismissal in October of last year.
On the phone hacking, Mr Baneham stated “leaving aside the obvious criminal law dimension, the chief executive’s actions are odious and egregious”.
The chief executive downloaded 20 photos from the woman’s phone, without her consent or knowledge, while the two were having a meeting at a hotel in October 2017. He offered to let the woman charge her phone by plugging it into his laptop and downloaded the images and sent them to himself while she was in the bathroom.
The woman told the WRC she became aware of the hack some six months later when the chief executive emailed her to say he had told his ex-partner about having the images on his computer.
The WRC found that “the hacking and dissemination of the photographs in these circumstances violated the complainant’s dignity at work in the most egregious way”. Mr Baneham said the chief executive had suggested that he wished to submit the photos as evidence for the hearing of the case but this did not happen.
He found the company was vicariously liable for the man’s actions and ordered it “to immediately destroy all photographs or images that depict the complainant or belong to her”.
The WRC was told that the woman was initially messaged by the chief executive through her Instagram account and offered work. She began working on photo shoots and at events for the company in September 2017.
She said she travelled with the chief executive to Sao Paulo in November 2017 to meet representatives of a company regarding a merchandising opportunity for large concerts. On arrival in Brazil, he told her that there was no work meeting, which she said frustrated her as the trip was taken under false pretences.
Falling in love
The woman said she was subjected to harassment from the chief executive almost from the start of her time with the company. In an email presented to the WRC, the man refers to falling in love with her and wrote that she had “the keys” to him.
She replied: “I don’t have the same feelings, I already told you, what can I do? You’re my boss. I like working with you, I admire you and all the work you put in but I don’t have these kind of feelings.”
Mr Baneham said the woman had “worked in an environment where she received unwanted attention and communication” from the chief executive.
“Having reviewed the messages and emails, the ceo’s communication to the complainant can be paraphrased as ‘you’re my inspiration / we’re not just colleagues / my home life is a drag’.”
Mr Baneham stated that the chief executive “also uses sexual innuendo to solicit the complainant, especially late at night.”
“This includes references to kissing and holding the complainant as well as waking up with her. This occurs amongst many over-the-top, emotive messages about growing the business and their relationship,” he noted, adding that the complainant was “crystal clear” in saying she was not interested.
The woman was dismissed on October 13th, 2018 after taking a week of annual leave. She submitted that this was procedurally unfair and there were no substantive grounds. She said she had spurned the chief executive’s advances and he sought retribution by dismissing her.
The chief executive and the company did not attend the WRC hearing but in a submission he said he did not want to focus on the woman’s negative attributes. He said everyone around him shares in his wealth and the complainant did too.
He described the allegation of sexual harassment as “unfair”. He acknowledged that while the manner of the woman’s dismissal was unfair, she changed after her return from leave in Brazil. He referred to holding the job open until last January and claimed that the woman was aggressive and angry.
The company was ordered to pay the woman a total of €94,708 for the sexual harassment, unfair dismissal and other breaches of workplace legislation.