A council employee has been awarded £18,000 by a tribunal that heard she was continually harassed by a male colleague for three years after managers failed to take her complaints seriously.
Lynn Poustie claimed her grievances were ignored and she was made to feel she was “exaggerating” when she complained about the abuse she received from road sweeper Alexander Ritchie.
Ritchie was found guilty of harassment and threatening behaviour at Edinburgh Sheriff Court at the end of 2015, but continues to work for Midlothian Council.
Poustie told the tribunal the harassment began in 2011, when Ritchie – a colleague she had taken part in ‘regular chit-chat’ with – unexpectedly announced that he was in love with her. “I was so shocked – I just didn't know where it had come from. I told him I was happily married with children and I made it clear that I just didn't think of him in that way at all,” she said.
Ritchie turned up at another colleague’s house “drunk and crying” and said he had left his wife because he was in love with Poustie. He claimed that a change of hairstyle was evidence that she reciprocated his feelings and began spreading rumours that they were taking part in a sexual affair.
“He obviously didn't handle the rejection well and things turned really nasty. It all just spiralled out of control,” said Poustie.
Poustie first raised a grievance in 2011 and the council deployed Ritchie to a different town. However, he was allowed to continue working overtime in Dalkeith, where Poustie was based, and regularly came into contact with her. He would wait outside her office and threaten her, and told colleagues he knew where she lived, Poustie told the tribunal, which heard she had to install security cameras at her home.
Poustie said she believed the council failed to take her grievances seriously because managers had started to believe the rumours.
She said: “Throughout it all, my employers made me feel as if I was a little girl who was exaggerating. I think when someone behaves in that way and it is consistently happening, then it should be a sackable offence. Nobody should be continually scared to go to their work because of another employee.
"I became so withdrawn, I stopped speaking to people, I stopped going out for my lunch, and my employers were well aware of it. I felt there was a continuous lack of respect for my safety. They were just so dismissive of me.”
She added that she had hoped the tribunal outcome would change things, “but he is still walking about in his uniform, and I still don't feel safe if I come across him".
Judge Murdo Macleod ordered the council to pay £18,000 to Poustie. “The claimant has undergone a distressing and anxious time, over a period of some three years, as a result of the harassment visited upon her by Mr Ritchie,” he said in his ruling.
“Mr Ritchie’s behaviour towards her was such as to attract a conviction in the criminal proceedings taken against him, and therefore amounted to very serious misconduct.”
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