A woman who says she was raped by the CEO of a recruitment agency in a hotel room after a drunken work night out has been awarded nearly £1m in damages.
The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was “drunk” and “unsteady on her feet” when she went to the hotel with her “robust and temperamental” boss, an employment tribunal heard.
She reported the alleged assault – which she could only “partially remember” – to police two months later.
But despite two investigations, which the tribunal deemed to be “poor” with a “lack of good independent evidence”, the matter did not result in criminal charges.
The woman – referred to as Ms M – complained and later resigned before bringing claims for sexual harassment and for sexual discrimination to an employment tribunal, which succeeded after it ruled by majority that on the balance of probabilities she had been assaulted.
The allegations were strenuously denied by the CEO – referred to as Mr T – who claimed no sexual contact had taken place between the two and he had been in her room for little more than 10 minutes.
Now the woman has been awarded a total of £995,127.67 in compensation.
As well as financial losses due to the loss of her job, the tribunal awarded her £75,000 for personal injury and £17,000 for injury to feelings.
On the day of the incident, the woman went to have drinks with the CEO and colleagues to discuss her performance and probationary period, the panel heard.
While “drunk”, she was then taken to her hotel room by her boss who left some time later, the tribunal heard.
The panel heard conflicting evidence from her and her boss on what happened and analysed timelines provided by both for that night before ruling this had provided “ample possible time for the alleged attack to take place” in the room.
The tribunal also noted the CEO failed to produce emails he might have sent during the “crucial time” when he says he was in a car on the way home.
The panel heard the company had a “work hard, play hard” culture where alcohol and sexualised conversations were tolerated and occasionally “positively encouraged” by the boss.
The CEO denied at the tribunal that the assault took place, instead arguing that he just dropped off her bag, and denied that the office had a culture of debauchery.
However, the panel concluded that the CEO’s position regarding the culture of the organisation “has been utterly implausible”, adding that this had “undermined our ability to trust him in relation to other matters”.
Although it could not reach a consensus, the majority of the panel concluded the alleged sexual assault had happened.
It said: “[Ms M] was embarrassed by what had happened and was perhaps unaware as to whether she initially consented or not – though of course we heard no evidence on this point and we are fully aware of the fact she was so drunk she was unlikely to be able to consent…
"We conclude, on balance of probabilities, that [the CEO] had sex with the woman when she did not consent or did not have the capacity to consent.”