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Calling a middle-aged woman a “good girl” in the office is s*xual harassment, a court has ruled.
An employment court judge said that “language evolves over time” and while the term may have seemed “harmless once, it is now “demeaning”.
Employment judge Gary Tobin’s warning about s8xist language in the workplace came as a British executive successfully sued a £3bn company over the comments.
Frances Fricker, 39, is now in line for compensation after boss Giuseppe Ajroldi repeatedly called her a “good girl” despite objecting, the court heard.
The ‘patronizing’ behavior of the sales manager, Mr. Ajroldi, ‘degraded and humiliated’ the account executive, Ms. Fricker, who complained that she was an ‘independent woman’.
The court heard that “controller” Ajroldi also mocked Ms Fricker’s weight by saying she looked “fat” in photos and once tried to kiss and touch her on a business trip.
When she complained to bosses at international business consultancy Gartner, they told her she had flirted with Ajroldi.
Now, after being forced to resign, the mother, Ms. Fricker, is in line for compensation after suing Gartner for s*xual harassment.
The court heard that Ajroldi was part of a “toxic” and male-dominated culture at Gartner, which has a European headquarters in Egham, Surrey, and an office in London.
After joining Gartner in September 2017, Mr. Ajroldi harassed Ms. Fricker into changing her LinkedIn profile picture, telling her, “You’re beautiful…for once, trust me.” your manager.”
She also showed him pictures of her Facebook profile and ‘laughed’ and told him ‘she seemed fat’, even once ‘[puffing] her cheeks’ and ‘pretending to be overweight’, making her feel ‘degraded and humiliated’.
The panel heard that Mr. Ajroldi also “frequently” referred to Ms. Fricker as a “good girl”, to which she responded on one occasion with a “facepalm” emoji along with the female gender symbol.
She added: “I’m an independent woman, for God’s sake”, to which Mr. Ajroldi “played dumb” and replied: “Good girl isn’t it appropriate*?”.
After telling him that the phrase was “just a little condescending”, he responded by saying “sorry, I didn’t mean to offend an independent woman”.
The court heard that Ajroldi used the condescending phrase two more times that month in February 2018, with Fricker telling him: “I’m not even going to answer.”
After he promised not to call her by that name again, she responded to her original question and Mr. Ajroldi replied, “Ok, thanks, good girl.”
In August 2018, Mr Ajroldi ‘insisted’ on accompanying Ms Fricker on an overnight business trip and was turned away after making ‘unwelcome s*xual advances’ towards her, including attempting to ‘kiss and touch’ her ‘ in his hotel room.
He apologized the next morning and was explicitly told by Mrs. Fricker that this behavior “had to stop.”
But the following month she felt “shocked, disgusted and threatened” after Ajroldi suggested he would be “funny” if he set up a date with her “disguised as someone else” on a dating app she used.
She later filed a complaint against Mr. Ajroldi, but was told that managers viewed Mr. Ajroldi’s behavior as ‘reciprocal’ and that she had ‘engaged in the behaviour’.
Mr. Ajroldi later left the company but was not fired from it, but Ms. Fricker was still harassed by other male colleagues, including being called an “oxygen thief”.
He resigned in October 2019, telling bosses: “The ongoing harassment, victimization and less favorable treatment I have received as a result of a previous harassment complaint, failing to create a safe work environment, forcing me to work in a hostile and not showing a reasonable request to move to a different team that allows me to perform well is the final act and one I can no longer tolerate.’
Labor Judge Gary Tobin said the extent of such a “discriminatory” culture was “rare” in her experience, adding that language that once seemed “harmless” now had a different meaning.
Justice Tobin said
Justice Tobin said: ‘We are an experienced court and we note that documentary evidence indicating such a discriminatory culture is rare.
“The bullying began mildly at first with comments, particularly about her appearance and her position (ie good girl), which later turned into inappropriate advances.
‘Language evolves over time. Words and phrases that once seemed harmless are now considered racial, homophobic, and s*xist slurs.
‘Some phrases, although not considered taboo, are generally considered inappropriate in the workplace.
“Referring to a woman in her 30s with a school-age child as a girl is demeaning.
“We found that Ms. Fricker was s*xually harassed and treated less favorably due to her rejection of her harassment.”
Ms. Fricker’s claims of constructive unfair dismissal also succeeded, although other claims of s*xual discrimination and victimization failed.
Compensation will be determined at a later date.
A Gartner corporate spokesperson said: ‘We are extremely disappointed with the UK Employment Tribunal ruling.
“We do not believe the evidence supports the ruling and we are currently determining potential next steps, including whether to appeal this decision.
“At Gartner, we’re committed to creating an inclusive culture where every associate feels safe, respected and empowered to do their best work.”
Frances Fricker Quick and Facts
- A woman has successfully sued her employer for the ‘condescending’ remark
- Calling a middle-aged woman ‘good girl’ is ‘demeaning’, a tribunal judge ruled
- Frances Fricker, 39, has sued Gartner, a consultancy firm, for the ordeal
- Boss Giuseppe Ajroldi continued using the phrase despite being told to stop
- When Ms Fricker complained to management, they said it was reciprocal flirting
- Gartner said they are ‘disappointed’ in the tribunal’s ruling and intend to appeal