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Project D sexual harassment at work case

Project D doughnut decorator awarded £31,000 after sexual harassment at work

Posted by HR & Employment Team

A former teenage bakery worker has been awarded £31,000 after an employment tribunal found her employer failed to investigate a sexual harassment complaint.

Sexual Harassment Incident

  • Miss Merriman, 17 at the time, accused a male colleague, Mr. Horn, of inappropriate physical contact and comments.
  • The tribunal accepted her account of Mr. Horn bear-hugging, rubbing flour on her, and grabbing her bottom.
  • Sexual harassment at work is unwanted sexual behaviour that makes someone feel uncomfortable, intimidated, or offended at work. It can be physical (like touching or grabbing), verbal (like comments or jokes), or even non-verbal (like staring).

Employer’s inadequate Response

  • Merriman initially requested the incident not be reported formally, but the working relationship deteriorated after.
  • A later shouting incident prompted an “investigation” that the tribunal deemed “woefully inadequate.”
  • The investigation only interviewed a limited number of people and disregarded key witnesses.

Dismissal and Tribunal Findings

  • Following the investigation, Merriman was dismissed, allegedly due to a business downturn (a claim the tribunal rejected).
  • The tribunal concluded the dismissal was retaliation for the harassment complaint.
  • They found the company prioritised protecting the accused over a proper investigation.


  • The tribunal ruled in favour of Miss Merriman, awarding her compensation for lost wages and emotional distress.
  • The judgment criticised the company’s handling of the complaint, suggesting it was swept under the rug.

Additional Notes:

  • The company’s HR manager’s qualifications were questioned by the tribunal.
  • The tribunal found evidence the company did not offer employment contracts to avoid legal obligations.

What can employers learn from this case?

  • Take all complaints of sexual harassment seriously: This includes complaints from young employees, and even if they initially ask for a less formal approach.
  • Conduct thorough and impartial investigations: Don’t favour the accused, remain impartial whilst carrying out a thorough investigation (we can help with this!) ensuring all relevant witnesses are interviewed.
  • Have clear procedures for reporting and investigating harassment: Employees should be aware of their rights and how to make a complaint, and this should be written in a policy.
  • Don’t dismiss employees in retaliation for making a complaint: The tribunal found the dismissal in this case was likely linked to the harassment complaint.
  • Ensure HR managers have proper qualifications: The tribunal questioned the qualifications of the HR manager in this case. Ensure at recruitment stage that your HR Manager is adequately trained to deal with all types of Employment Law scenarios, or, instruct third-party HR consultants like us for expert, impartial advice.
  • Offer employment contracts: Even though not having a contract didn’t affect the outcome here, it can weaken an employer’s position in legal disputes.

By following these lessons, employers can create a safer and fairer work environment for all employees. Speak to us about how you can implement the above suggestions at your business, to ensure you’re legally protected. Give us a call on 0161 603 2156 or drop us an email at [email protected] today.

Here is the judgement in full for reference.

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