A High Court bullying action, in which a female postal worker alleged that she had been subjected to years of mistreatment by her colleagues arising out of “gay rumours,” has been struck out on her request.
56 year-old Claire Stephens, a married mother who worked in the Galway Mail Sorting Office, claimed the bullying took place over a number of years and culminated in a pornographic postcard being left on her sorting bench. She was so distressed by the bullying, she said in court, that she circulated a letter to colleagues warning that she was having suicidal thoughts.
She sued An Post for personal injuries arising out of the alleged bullying, which she claims was never properly dealt with by her employer. An Post has denied this claim, admitting that the postcard incident happened but saying the offender was dealt with under the company disciplinary policy.
Stephens was dismissed in 2016 and brought an unfair dismissal case to the Labour Court, which was rejected and is currently being appealed.
The former postal worker, under cross-examination on Wednesday, became upset while being questioned about what she called a “suicide note” that she left on her colleagues’ benches. Counsel for An Post had put it to her that she was trying to mislead the company about the seriousness of her suicide threat, given that she had told a company counsellor she would withdraw the threat.
Stephens claimed she had said she would withdraw the threat only because the counsellor was asking for details of her GP and medical history, and if she had given these details she would have been sent to the hospital. “I had not told my husband anything,” she said. “I just wanted to die, I wasn’t going into the hospital; it would have been my worst nightmare.”
The case presided over by Justice Charles Meenan, was due to resume yesterday when Meenan was told by Marguerite Bolger SC, for An Post, that Stephens was in Galway where she may be seeking medical attention. Lorraine Lally BL, for Stephens, later told the judge her client had asked that the case is struck out with no order.
Bullied since 2006
Stephens told the court the bullying started in 2006 after a female colleague attempted to kiss her in the staff toilets. Seeing her reaction, she claimed, the woman said it was a joke. She had never met a lesbian before, she said. Despite claiming the kiss was a joke, this same woman kept coming over to her bench afterwards.
She said another woman who joined the workforce later “seemed to pick up that I had a problem with making eye contact” and “always seemed to be whispering” about her. In 2008, this woman started hitting off her “with her boobs” each time she came over to Stephens’ bench. “She was very slim and small and she had to make a lot of effort to do that to me,” she told the court.
The “final straw,” Stephens said, came when this woman was admiring a necklace she was wearing and “rubbed her arm up and down against my breast.”
In 2012, during the night shift, a male co-worker came to her bench and left a postcard showing a picture of a woman’s vagina with two fingers inserted in it. She said nothing, worried people would say she was “a dry old bitch and he was a young man having a laugh.” In subsequent days, she said, she heard “a lot of skitting and laughing” among other workers.
She called the human resources department about the incident but for five weeks nothing happened, she claimed. Finally, in March 2013, she made a formal complaint.
Her supervisor later told her he had spoken to the young worker involved in the postcard incident and he was sorry for what he did. Stephens claimed, however, that the man had been given “no more than a pep talk.”
She said she lost half a stone in weight, was unable to sleep and started going around to her colleagues saying she was suicidal. Eventually, she photocopied her “suicide note” and left it on colleagues’ benches. There have been two suicides in the Galway Mail Centre, she claims.
Under cross-examination, she agreed that in an internal review of her case in 2014 none of her fellow workers – save two who admitted to hearing about the postcard incident – corroborated any of her complaints. However, she said, they “were never asked.”
© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
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