An Post must pay damages to former Cork postal worker over bullying at sorting office

By Ann O'Loughlin

An Post must pay about €55,000 damages to a former postal sorter over bullying and harassment by her co-workers, plus a further sum for loss of earnings over periods amounting to some four years, a High Court judge has ruled.

If the sides cannot agree the loss of earnings for Catherine Hurley over specified periods between July 2006 and the end of 2011, Mr Justice Paul McDermott will decide it later.

The judge held Ms Hurley was not entitled to additional sums for pain and suffering and loss of earnings beyond the end of 2011 because she had not fully adhered to a prescribed conservative treatment regime between 2008-12 which her psychiatrist believed could have lead to recovery from a moderate form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Ms Hurley (53), White's Cross, Co Cork, sued An Post for negligence, breach of duty and breach of contract, after she was ostracised by work colleagues at a sorting office at Little Island, Cork, after a male colleague was suspended in July 2006.

The suspension arose from an incident involving Ms Hurley and because of the colleague’s "gross insubordination" towards management dealing with that, the judge previously noted.

Ms Hurley ultimately ceased work in September 2008 and was later dismissed by An Post in July 2011.

She claimed she could not seek employment after her dismissal due to pain in her neck and shoulder and other injuries which she alleged An Post was liable for.

Last October, the judge ruled An Post was liable for the bullying and harassment experienced form her co-workers during her employment of which it was aware and had a duty to address but failed to do so in any meaningful way.

He accepted her health suffered as a result of what happened and the neck spasm and other symptoms described by her were the likely product of PTSD.

The health damage was reasonably foreseeable by An Post which failed until July/August 2008 to invoke a code providing for a formal investigative process for complaints of workplace bullying and harassment, he said.

A further hearing was held on damages.

In his judgment today, Mr Justice McDermott accepted Ms Hurley, from her engagement with her psychiatrist in 2008, was suffering moderate PTSD as a result of the July 2006 incident. He also held the continuing symptoms of PTSD depression and anxiety were caused and substantially contributed to by the bullying and harassment she was subjected to thereafter.

She suffered heightened symptoms of pain in her shoulder and neck which impinged greatly on her family life and caused her difficulties for a time in executing daily tasks, he said.

She was treated by her psychiatrist from 2008 until she ceased to attend him in 2012. While he believed she was taking prescribed medication which he expected would resolve her symptoms within two years, that did not occur and it later emerged she only took her medication sporadically.

It was important Ms Hurley did not contact the psychiatrist between 2012 and 2016, the judge said.

He did not accept Ms Hurley had unjustifiably resisted repeated admonitions from her employers to return to work in 2008 and 2009, leading to her dismissal in 2011.

He ruled she was entitled to €50,000 general damages for continuing symptoms of PTSD anxiety and depression from August 2006, when she returned to work, until the end of 2011. She was also entitled to sums for loss of earnings for specified periods when she was out of work between August 2006 and the end of 2011, plus special damages of €4,643.

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