Fashion firm ordered to pay sales exec. €94k as case hears CEO hacked her intimate photos

File photo.

A chief executive of a fashion company here hacked into a female colleague’s phone and downloaded the woman's personal intimate photos.

The ‘odious hacking’ by the unnamed CEO is one of the findings of Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer, Kevin Baneham who has ordered the fashion company to pay compensation of €65,000 for the persistent sexual harassment by the CEO of the company’s Brazilian-born International Sales and Marketing Executive.

Mr Baneham has also ordered the company to pay the sales executive an additional €25,000 for her unfair dismissal in October of last year.

In total, the fashion company has been ordered the pay the Brazilian woman €94,708 for the sexual harassment, unfair dismissal and other workplace legislation breaches.

On the phone hacking, Mr Baneham said “leaving aside the obvious criminal law dimension, the chief executive’s actions are odious and egregious”.

The CEO downloaded 20 photos from the sales executive’s smart phone, without her consent or knowledge when the two were having a work meeting at a prominent city centre hotel in October 2017.

The sales executive’s phone required charging and the CEO offered his laptop to recharge the phone and it was while the sales executive went to the bathroom that he downloaded her photographs from her phone and sent them to himself.

The woman told the WRC that the photos included her “personal intimate photographs”.

The sales executive only became aware of the ‘hack’ in March 2018 when the CEO emailed her to say that he had told his ex living in Uruguay about the sales executive’s photos on his lap-top.

Mr Baneham 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 that extraordinarily, the CEO suggested in an email to the WRC that he wished to submit the photos as evidence for the WRC adjudication hearing but they were not submitted.

Mr Baneham stated that the CEO is an IT expert; his other businesses are in IT and, according to him, they are very successful.

Mr Baneham found that the found the fashion company to be vicariously liable for the actions of the CEO.

He said that the award of €65,000 is the maximum allowed, equivalent to 104 weeks of remuneration, in the case before him.

He said: “This award is justified given the serious and persistent contravention of the Employment Equality Act, i.e. persistent sexual harassment that culminated in the odious hacking and dissemination of the complainant’s photographs. This award is also intended to be effective, proportionate and dissuasive.”

Mr Baneham has also ordered the fashion company “to immediately destroy all photographs or images that depict the complainant or belong to her”.

The sales executive is a graduate of marketing and graphic design and she was first messaged through her Instagram account by the CEO who offered her work.

The sales executive commenced working on September 5, 2017, on photo shoots and events for the company and later became responsible for marketing and events.

The sales executive said that the CEO bought her gifts including a new iPhone X and a necklace from Tiffany’s.

The woman emailed her boss to state that the gifts were over-generous and upset her and at the WRC hearing the sales executive had with her a bag of the clothes bought for her while working for the fashion company.

The sales executive said that she travelled with the CEO to Sao Paulo in November 2017 to meet representatives of a company regarding a merchandising opportunity for large concerts on the fringes of a Coldplay concert.

However, it was only when they arrived in Brazil that the CEO told the sales executive that there was no work meeting.

The sales executive said that she was frustrated as they had travelled to Brazil on false pretences and the CEO at a later date emailed her to say “heard Coldplay in a place I went to last week – and it took me right back to Sao Paulo”.

The sales executive told the WRC that “the trip to Sao Paulo was under false pretences and not something to reminisce about”.

The woman stated that she was subjected to harassment from the CEO almost from the start of her time with the company.

In an email presented by the sales executive to the WRC, the CEO refers to falling in love with her and that she had “the keys” to him.

However 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.”

She stated that she and the CEO attended marketing conferences in New York, San Francisco, Costa Rica and Monaco.

However, when they travelled, the sales executive was not given the details of their flights or itinerary and the CEO would only tell the sales executive on the day of their flight that they were leaving that day.

Mr Baneham stated that the sales executive “worked in an environment where she received unwanted attention and communication from the CEO".

Mr Baneham said: “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’.”

He said that the CEO “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.

"The complainant was crystal clear in all her replies. Her response can be paraphrased as ‘I am not interested / let’s get on with work’.”

On the Coldplay trip to Sao Paulo, Mr Baneham said that the sales executive had travelled there on false pretences and that it was no surprise that she “was angry and frustrated” when she learnt that there was no business meeting on the margins of the Coldplay concert.

Mr Baneham said: “Instead of this being a work-related event, it was now a social event. This completely undermined the complainant’s efforts to keep their relationship on a professional level and this happened in her hometown.”

The sales executive was dismissed on October 13, 2018, after taking a week of annual leave.

She submitted that the dismissal was procedurally unfair and there were no substantive grounds.

She stated that she had spurned the CEO's advances and he sought retribution by dismissing her.

The CEO or the fashion company did not attend the WRC hearing.

However, in a submission to the WRC, the CEO stated that he did not want to focus on the sales executive’s negative attributes.

He said that everyone around him shares in his wealth and the complainant shared in this too.

The CEO described the allegation of sexual harassment as "unfair" and referred to their travelling the world together.

He acknowledged that while the manner of the dismissal was unfair, the sales executive changed after her return from Brazil.

The CEO referred to holding the job open until January 2019 and claimed that the sales executive was aggressive and angry.

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