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Female sales manager wins £5,000 in sex harassment claim

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A sales manager who was sent derogatory remarks on a work WhatsApp group chat by senior colleagues has won £5,000 in a sexual harassment claim.  

Wioleta Gannon launched the claim against the security firm Verisure Services UK after she was told to ‘stand in a bikini to increase sales’ and called ‘my bitches’ by colleagues in the group chat. 

In the group, which included six women, senior manager Dwayne Desilva told members of staff: ‘Listen guys! I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re all my bitches.’

The group were also sent a pornographic image of a naked woman by branch manager Robert Palmer, an East London tribunal heard.   

Wioleta Gannon launched the claim against the security firm Verisure Services UK, based in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, after she was sent derogatory remarks on a work WhatsApp group chat

Wioleta Gannon launched the claim against the security firm Verisure Services UK, based in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, after she was sent derogatory remarks on a work WhatsApp group chat

Mr Palmer, who was later sacked, also allegedly told Mrs Gannon she should ‘stand in a bikini to increase sales’. 

When Mrs Gannon, who had a sales role and was based at the Southend-on-Sea office, Essex, complained to her boss Ricardo Almeida-Vaz – who was friends with Mr Desilva – she was ‘victimised’ and told she was ‘making the conversation toxic’.

Mr Desilva and Mr Almeida-Vaz claimed the comment was just ‘banter’, a tribunal heard. 

But, now Mrs Gannon has won a sex harassment claim against the security firm after it was heard there was ‘evidence of a disrespectful attitude towards women’. 

The tribunal heard that Mr Almeida-Vaz, who is in his late 20s, replaced Mr Palmer as the Southend branch manager and added Mr Desilva – the Romford branch manager – to the Southend-on-Sea WhatsApp chat as he had previously worked with him and they were friends.     

In March 2018, Mr Almeida-Vaz claimed he asked Mr Desilva to ‘provoke’ his team with ‘some traditional banter to get everyone pumped to do more sales’ and ‘create some friendly rivalry’ between branches.  

Mr Desilva said on the group chat of 20 staff: ‘Listen guys! I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re all my b*****s.’ 

Mrs Gannon hit back: ‘Erhm… DWAYNE… Nobody is your b*****s (sic).’

After Mrs Gannon complained to Mr Almeida-Vaz, he told her she was being ‘toxic’ and said: ‘If you’re not happy… then find something else.’ 

Mr Almeida-Vaz then kicked Mrs Gannon out of the chat. 

At the tribunal, he said: ‘It was a very innocent comment that was designed to give guys extra motivation to compete with [the Romford] branch.’ 

The tribunal heard that when Mrs Gannon complained to her boss Ricardo Almeida-Vaz (pictured) she was told she was 'making the conversation toxic'

The tribunal heard that when Mrs Gannon complained to her boss Ricardo Almeida-Vaz (pictured) she was told she was ‘making the conversation toxic’

He accused Mrs Gannon of ‘blowing the conversation out of context’ and ‘made it nasty’. 

Employment Judge Christiana Hyde determined that Mr Desilva did not have the ‘purpose’ of violating Mrs Gannon’s dignity as it was a ‘spur of the moment’ comment, but ruled the remark and Mr Almeida-Vaz’s subsequent treatment amounted to harassment. 

Judge Hyde said Mr Desilva was ‘not an exemplar of sensitivity’, however. 

Judge Hyde added: ‘The tribunal took into account that this was a male dominated workplace although there were other female members of staff. 

‘But there was a background of lack of sensitivity towards women and not respecting the dignity of women. 

‘The circulation of the pornographic picture by Mr Palmer, which had attracted no censure at the time from the majority of colleagues and more importantly, from the senior male colleagues who saw it at the time, or from Mr Barragan, the regional manager, was evidence of this. 

‘Mr Barragan was also a member of the group when Mr Desilva’s comment was made, and as far as the rest of the group could see, he made no adverse comment about it.

 ‘Other members of the group expressed amusement at the use of the term which largely went unchallenged. 

‘The tribunal also took into account that this is a word [of which its] original meaning was very gender specific. 

‘The tribunal considered that it was perfectly reasonable for Mrs Gannon… to have taken exception to it as sex harassment. 

‘The tribunal considered that she ended up being criticised for expressing her offence at this comment which clearly had derogatory overtones in relation to women.’ 

Mrs Gannon, who resigned in April 2018, won claims of sex harassment and victimisation. Some of her sex harassment allegations were dismissed. 

She was awarded £5,000 compensation for injury to feelings. 

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