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Monday 08 November 2010

Bullying boss "made me feel sick about who I was"

Posted in: True Stories
By Matt Akersten - 20th March 2010

"He repeatedly called me a 'fucking faggot'. He intimidated me, and pressured me into silence. His constant racism, sexism and homophobia astounded me."

The El Centro restaurant in Auckland's Mission Bay was uncharacteristically closed yesterday, as various media tried to track down its owner Graeme Edwards, who's been forced to pay out almost $15,000 to a 25-year-old gay former employee who says he constantly harassed him with inappropriate comments attacking his sexuality. can't name the former employee, who still fears he'll become a target for further harassment and discrimination. Things got very bad during his three weeks working with Edwards last year, and it's taken some time to heal, he tells us.

"It amazed me how open he was with his comments. He didn't care who heard him. He called me a 'fucking faggot' several times and made stupid jokes about people not bending over around me. It was hurtful and degrading. Eventually it made me feel sick about who I was – like I was subhuman."

How did the other staff react to what was going on? "The others were younger, and didn't know how to react. He was vile to a young female staff member too. He treated everyone badly." A 17-year-old former employee of Edwards confirms this – she told TV3's Campbell Live last night that he'd groped her at work and made several inappropriate sexual comments.

"It was particularly surprising and weird that he treated me like that, because I'm not an 'out there' type person. Not that 'out there' people would deserve anything like that, but I just got on with the job and didn't make an issue of my sexuality. But he still used it against me."

Taking action

Only a few weeks into the job, Edward's former employee says that one Saturday evening he was again abused in front of staff and customers, and suddenly dismissed. "He said I couldn't manage my way out of a brothel and not to bother coming back. So I left, and was completely lost as to what to do next. I was shocked and stunned, my dismissal had come without any reason or warning.

"But I've always been a fighter. I was teased at school, too, and I won't just sit there and take it now. I knew he wouldn't have the last laugh."

The 25-year-old says he knew his rights, and engaged a lawyer who recognised that he had a strong personal grievance case which the Employment Relations Authority would take seriously.

'[The complainant] was publicly humiliated, derided, belittled and made fun of, for Mr. Edward's amusement,' says the Authority's decision. '[The complainant] is entitled to compensation for personal harm suffered by this unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory treatment by his employer.'

The 25-year-old was awarded $7,000 damages, and a further $7,600 in lost wages.

But will he get the money, now that Edwards has disappeared? He's not sure, but tells us that 2010 has been a much better year so far. "I'm in a very good job now, and have learnt a lot from this experience. You have to know your rights.

"No one has the right to make fun of your sexuality. I know that there are a lot of other people out there who could be in a similar situation to the one I was in. The Department of Labour has a free hotline you can call for advice.

"As for Graeme Edwards, we haven't heard the last of him. He will pop up again, I'm sure."
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Matt Akersten - 20th March 2010