'Exceptional': Belgian company convicted of gender-based harassment of female employee

'Exceptional': Belgian company convicted of gender-based harassment of female employee
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A company in the Walloon-Brabant province was convicted of gender-based harassment after a woman was bullied by her boss and eventually fired. The ruling was called "exceptional" by the Institute for Gender Equality (IGVM).

The woman, identified as D., had worked for the company in question since 2008 and returned from maternity leave in March 2016.

During her absence, a new supervisor was appointed with whom tensions quickly arose. As the only woman in the position, D. reported hostile behaviour, saying that her supervisor did not recognise her skills, was controlling and gave her negative evaluations even though she had achieved her goals.

As a result, D. filed a complaint for harassment on 12 March 2019. Nine days later, she was dismissed, officially on the ground that her job was no longer needed. However, D. decided to take her employer to court and involved the Gender Equality Institute, which voluntarily intervened to support the claim and have the discriminatory nature of the harassment recognised.

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During the investigation, several (male and female) witnesses confirmed the manager's "macho and even female-hostile attitude" towards D. They also attested to a sexist atmosphere in the workplace and the accompanying difficulty of working as a woman in the company.

In its 10 February 2022 ruling, the labour court acknowledged that D. was the victim of gender-based harassment by her supervisor and that she was dismissed in retaliation for her complaint of harassment.

The court also pointed to the lack of response by company management, which had not taken demonstrable action to stop the conduct of the supervisor. The employer was ordered to pay damages equivalent to six months' gross salary to D. and a symbolic €1 to the Institute.

"It is still extremely rare for a court to rule on this kind of case, mainly due to the lack of evidence but also, and a large number of studies show this because sexism and misogyny remain very much engrained in our corporate culture," Deputy Director of the Institute Liesbet Stevens stressed in a press release.

"It gives me hope that this woman dared to raise the alarm, that her colleagues also recognised the issue and the court was able to pass this conviction."


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