Rory Harbison filed a complaint of harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation, in July 2019, after a row with his manager over Belfast Pride posters he had put up in the office. The case has been settled, with the assistance of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, for £2,000 with no admission of liability.
Rory works for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. The Trust had advertised the upcoming Belfast Pride on its staff intranet, looking for volunteers for its stand and encouraging staff to take part. He printed out the associated posters and put them up around his workplace.
The next day most of the posters had been taken down. One of Rory’s work colleagues told him their manager had torn them down. He says that when he asked his manager why she had removed them, there was a bad-tempered row over the Pride posters.
Read how a workplace row about Pride posters resulted in a discrimination case, how it was settled and what employers should do in this situation. https://t.co/uNu5Kgh5mX pic.twitter.com/81tbgFKcEt
— Equality Commission (@EqualityCommNI) July 8, 2021
Rory says he told his manager that he was not going to get into a debate with her and walked away. A few minutes later, the manager came into his office in a very aggressive manner, shouting at him and carrying the posters that she had removed.
He says he tried to explain that the Trust was promoting Belfast Pride and had invited staff to also promote it. When he told her that she could be perceived as homophobic, she said: “Oh here we go.”
Rory has said that he is relieved that the case has been settled. “It was a very unpleasant experience and I felt shocked and humiliated by the whole episode… It was not just taking down the posters, but the way I was treated after this incident that I found so hard to accept. I felt that my being gay made the posters somehow more offensive to my manager.”
Anne McKernan, Director of Legal Services at the Equality Commission said that while huge strides have been made for equality in Northern Ireland “in terms of attitudes, we still have some way to go.”
She said it is entirely legitimate for an organisation to “endorse the principles of equality and diversity”, but said employers who commit to such goals should make sure that “all employees are clear” on what the company’s mission is.
In addition to paying £2,000 without admission of liability, the Trust has reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of equality of opportunity and has said that it will continue to make sure it is meeting all its requirements under equality law. It has also agreed to liaise with the Equality Commission in respect of its policies, practices and procedures.
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