By Yvonne Frederiksen, Firm: Norrbom Vinding
A client of a consulting firm has been held to be a consultant’s employer under the Danish Equal Treatment Act. The client company terminated its agreement with the consulting firm following a complaint of sexual harassment by the consultant. The termination breached the Equal Treatment Act.
The Equal Treatment Board has held that it was contrary to the Equal Treatment Act that an agreement with a finance consultant who had been subjected to sexual harassment was terminated two days after she had made a claim for equal treatment.
Under the Equal Treatment Act, there is sexual harassment when any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical behaviour with sexual undertones has the effect or aim of violating a person's dignity. In addition, it follows that if an individual who has made a claim for equal treatment is treated unfavourably as a result of the claim, this can in itself trigger claims for compensation.
The case concerned a female finance consultant who was employed by a consulting firm to perform tasks for a client company. As part of a longer SMS correspondence (which concerned work matters), the day-to-day manager of the business wrote ‘you are sexy!’ to the female finance consultant.
Around two weeks later, the finance consultant's husband contacted the director of the company for which she was working. In an email, her husband stated that he was upset about the way the day-to-day manager treated employees. The company director told him that he would talk to the manager.
A few days later, a meeting was held between the client company and the finance consultant. On the same day, the client company terminated its agreement with the consulting company.
The female finance consultant believed that she had been a victim of sexual harassment and that the collaboration was terminated because of her claim for equal treatment. She therefore brought a case before the Equal Treatment Board.
Duty to ensure equal treatment?
The committee considered that the client company terminated its cooperation prematurely with the consulting firm where the finance consultant was employed as a direct consequence of the fact that the finance consultant claimed that she had been a victim of sexual harassment.
The board also found that the client company for which the finance consultant performed work functioned as an employer for the purposes of the Equal Treatment Act, and that the company was therefore obliged to protect the finance consultant against discrimination on grounds of sex.
Although the company felt that the text message actually had a different meaning when the correspondence was read in its entirety, the committee considered that the message was an expression of sexual harassment,
The Equal Treatment Board therefore held that the finance consultant had been subjected to disadvantageous treatment as a result of her claim for equal treatment, and on this basis she was awarded compensation of DKK 30,000.
Norrbom Vinding notes
A company that has authority to supervise and manage the work of a consultant sent from another company has an obligation under the Equal Treatment Act to protect that person from discrimination, even if he or she is not formally employed by the company in question.