A gay man has said he felt “shocked and humiliated” after his manager tore down Pride posters in the workplace.
Rory Harbinson, who works for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, filed a complaint of harassment based on sexual orientation following the incident. Harbinson was assisted by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland in his case.
The commission said in a statement issued on Thursday (8 July) that the trust had settled the case without admission of liability, agreeing to pay Harbinson £2,000.
In July 2019, Harbinson saw that the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust had advertised a Belfast Pride event on its staff intranet.
The trust said it was looking for volunteers to help out at a stand and wanted staff to get involved. Harbinson printed off the posters and displayed them in the office for other workers to see, according to the Equality Commission.
However, when Harbinson went into work the next day, he discovered that “most” of the posters had been removed.
Another member of staff told Harbinson that the manager had removed the posters and had acknowledged that Rory “would not be one bit happy” about it.
I felt that my being gay made the posters somehow more offensive to my manager.
Harbinson approached his manager and asked why the posters had been removed. A “bad-tempered exchange” followed, which resulted in him telling the manager that he was “not going to get into a debate with her”.
Ten minutes later, the manager went into his office in “a very aggressive manner, shouting at him and carrying the posters that she had removed,” the Equality Commission said.
Harbinson tried to tell the manager that the trust was promoting Belfast Pride and had asked staff to help out with its efforts.
He told the manager that her actions could be seen as homophobic, to which she replied: “Oh here we go.”
Putting up Pride posters brought ‘anger and hostility’ down on Belfast man’s head
“I was glad to settle this case, it was a very unpleasant experience and I felt shocked and humiliated by the whole episode,” Harbinson said in a statement.
“It seemed that putting the Trust posters up brought all this anger and hostility down on my head. 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. And I’m very grateful for the support of the Equality Commission throughout.”
Anne McKernon, director of legal services at the Equality Commission, said there has been “massive progress” on LGBT+ issues in Northern Ireland in recent years, but she added that there is still “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 their mission is.
“The law is there to protect people from discrimination and harassment as well as any other less favourable treatment because of their sexual orientation,” McKernon said.
“Where a policy is in place, as it is in the Trust, employers need to make sure that all staff know what behaviour is acceptable in the workplace in dealing with their colleagues. It’s a good thing to have a Dignity at Work policy to set this down formally.”
In addition to paying £2,000 without liability, the Trust has said it is committed to equality of opportunity, adding that it will continue to make sure it is meeting all its requirements under equality law.