Housing Executive pays out over sectarian harassment

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A man who was forced to endure colleagues calling Catholics ‘Fenians’, wishing him ‘Happy King Billy’s Day’ and draping a a Union Jack over his work van has settled a case against the North’s Housing Executive.

Hugo Elliott (pictured), a plasterer, has been paid £12,500 after his bosses settled the sectarian harassment case without admission of liability.

The 57-year-old from Derry, who was supported by the Equality Commission, revealed how he “experienced sectarian insults, foul language and some very intimidating behaviour” while working with the Executive.

“It was an awful time, it was hurtful and it was wrong, and it badly affected my health. I had to challenge it,” he said. “I asked for help, I reported my concerns but they weren’t dealt with.”

He was off work ill for several months as a direct result of the harassment.

“I just wanted to go to work and do my job. My religion has no bearing on my ability to be a plasterer.”

The public housing authority for the Six Counties has often been accused of practising discrimination against the nationalist community. A report issued by the body earlier this year attempted to justify a longer waiting list for housing for Catholics with a number of insupportable excuses.

Mr Elliott began working for the organisation in 2013 and said that almost from the start of his job he suffered sectarian abuse.

“At times it was humiliating... at times it was frightening,” Mr Elliot said.

“At night, you could hardly sleep, thinking about going down there in the morning. What’s the next prank going to be played on you? Just total humiliation.”

He complained to his employers about the behaviour, but they failed to take appropriate action and he was forced to seek help from the Equality Commission.

Its Chief Commissioner Geraldine McGahey said this week Mr Elliott had suffered “horrendous sectarian harassment - something that no employee should actually put up with”.

“He raised a number of grievances and concerns about the treatment he was getting, as did other visitors to the depot who witnessed it,” she added.

“Unfortunately it took nine months before the Housing Executive was able to get round to completing an investigation into his complaints.”

Mr Elliot said the abuse eventually affected his health and he was off work for several months in 2019.

“The whole experience wore me down. I know other colleagues were shocked by what they witnessed,” he said.

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