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Constructive dismissal: Company 'did nothing' about sexual harassment

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A food production company in Northern Ireland is facing potentially hefty liability after it allegedly ignored complaints of sexual harassment.

Marzena Kopowska, 29, told an industrial tribunal in Belfast that a colleague repeatedly harassed her during the 15 months she worked at Mac's Quality Foods in Dunmurry.

Ms Kopowska claims that her supervisor Ziggy Kaczmarek, a Polish citizen who has since returned to his homeland, physically and verbally sexually harassed her on a number of occasions.

She alleges Mr Kaczmarek repeatedly approached her from behind and pressed himself against her, pinning her to the production belt where they were packing food.

On one occasion, Ms Kopowska described how Mr Kaczmarek undressed in the factory changing room in front of her and another female colleague, Maria Balcewicz, and showed them a picture of what appeared to be a flower on his buttock.

On another occasion, she described how he told her that she was "his type and that sooner or later I would be his".

Ms Kopowska says she tried to complain about the harassment but "wasn't listened to".

In December 2007, Ms Kopowska took sick leave because of "back pain" and she then suffered a "nervous breakdown", which she claims was caused by Mr Kaczmarek. She reigned and claimed constructive dismissal shortly afterward.

On cross-examination, Ms Kopowska was asked if anyone witnessed the harassment by Mr Kaczmarek. She replied that Mac's Quality Foods is a "small family-owned company" so colleagues "must have seen it" and that one of them (Ms Balcewicz) "told Ziggy off a few times".

The owner of Mac's Quality Foods, Margaret McIlroy, rejects this. She said the company only learned of the sexual harassment allegations in January 2008 after Ms Kopowska went on sick leave.

The hearing continues.

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