An ex-City worker has been awarded more than £1 million pounds after an employment tribunal heard how her former boss made comments about her breasts.
Julia Sommer joined Zurich-based Swiss Re in 2017 as a political risk underwriter in London but was made redundant in 2021, months after returning from maternity leave.
She sued Swiss Re, seeking just over £5 million, saying a senior manager commented about her breasts, made references to sex and discriminated against her.
The Central London Employment Tribunal ruled last year that her redundancy was "retrofitted" to a pre-existing decision to dismiss her and that a senior manager repeatedly humiliated her.
The tribunal also said that comments made at work drinks in 2017 – when the senior manager told her "if I had breasts like yours, I would be demanding too" and "I bet you like to be on top in bed" – were "a horrible attempt at a joke" and amounted to sex discrimination.
Sommer was awarded £1.29 million which the tribunal said was for "injury to feelings, personal injury and aggravated damages" and other financial losses, including the loss of a bonus in 2021.
A Swiss Re spokesperson said in a statement: "We are aware of this judgement, which is self-explanatory and which we have given careful consideration to. We have no additional comments to make."
Sexual harassment in the workplace
This unfortunate case highlights that misogyny continues to be a part of every aspect of society even when progress is being made in platforming and empowering women in typically male-dominate industries.
Recent research from the TUC, which surveyed 1000 female professionals, found that two-thirds of women have endured bullying, sexual harassment or verbal abuse in the workplace, most of which have gone uninvestigated or unreported.
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Three in five (58%) women – and almost two-thirds (62%) of women aged between 25 and 34 – say they have experienced sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse at work, according to the TUC poll.
It also found that most of these cases were not isolated incidents with more than three in five (57%) women saying they’ve experienced three or more incidents of bullying at work.
And two in five (43%) women have experienced at least three incidents of sexual harassment.
This highlights the importance of HR and management to take allegations around sexual misconduct seriously and respond effectively.
In a previous interview, Katie Hodson, Partner and Head of Employment at SAS Daniels LLP, told HR Grapevine that it’s important for employers to have “robust policies in place” regarding sexual harassment.
“Staff need to be clear that this behaviour is unacceptable and aware of the consequences of breaching the policies. This could be supported by staff training,” she continued.
“Further, any and all complaints should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. This would include asking relevant questions and looking at the evidence with a clear and unbiased viewpoint.”