Union challenge lifts gag on sex jibe tribunal case

Right: Sharon Meek complained to a tribunal that her boss told her she only got her job because of her large breasts

A tribunal has ruled that a woman who complained she was told she only got her job because she had big breasts can be named in the press after the NUJ challenged a gagging order.

Sharon Meek took cleaning supplies company Cannon Hygiene to an employment tribunal claiming sexual harassment.

She complained her boss told her she only got the job because she had “big tits” and was subjected to a daily dose of crude, sickening comments from her boss.

The company denied her claims and the Glasgow tribunal granted a restricted reporting order (RRO) banning the press from identifying those involved in the case.

But the case was settled before the tribunal hearing was concluded and, because of a loophole in the law, the restricted reporting order remained in force.

The NUJ challenged the law and, in a groundbreaking decision, the tribunal has now revoked the order, meaning Meek and Cannon Hygiene can be identified.

Solicitor Margaret Gribbon, head of employment law at Glasgow law firm Digby Brown, who represented the NUJ, said: “This case raises very important issues of public policy involving press freedom. It is not and never has been the intention of Parliament to impose indefinite restrictions on press reporting of employment tribunal proceedings.”

The union said it took up the case, the first of its kind, because the issues involved gave rise to very important principles of press freedom. It is a criminal offence to breach a restricted reporting order. A publisher found guilty of breaching such an order could face a fine of up to £5,000.

Tribunal chairman Stewart Watt said the purpose of the reporting order was to allow applicants to bring cases and witnesses to give evidence without being put off by fear of salacious press publicity.

”It seems equally clear it was intended that the protection of this order, to prevent the identification of the individuals in the media, would last only whilst the hearing continued.” Paul Holleran, Scottish organiser of the NUJ, welcomed the tribunal’s decision as ”a step in the right direction.” He added ”We will continue by all legal means possible to vigorously oppose the draconian gagging orders placed on the freedom of the press by the tribunal system.” He said the union would continue to press for the loophole to be addressed.

By Fiona Davidson

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