A transport worker baited and harassed by a married colleague who brushed his hands over her breasts as he gave her ‘bear hugs’ has won a sex harassment claim.
Lucille Richardson, 56, was groped by Scott Jowett while managers turned a blind eye, an employment tribunal was told.
After one boob-grabbing incident he told a colleague: ‘She loves it really’.
Despite telling the warehouse worker she ‘didn’t do hugs’ Mr Jowett continued his behaviour, but when she complained to bosses she was ignored.
Another time she told him if he touched her one more time she would spray him with perfume so that his wife suspected he was cheating.
One female supervisor, Caroline Neville told her that Jowett sometimes hugged her too and occasionally also ‘squeezed her bum’ before telling Mrs Richardson: ‘It’s only Scott’.
She developed panic attacks and stress after she was left working with him despite the firm saying he would be suspended.
But when she was signed off from work sick by her doctor they emailed her threatening her with disciplinary action for breach of contract.
After one incident she told him she would complain of sex harassment but he beat her to it, claiming to bosses she had falsely accused him.
Later, after returning from a lunch break, Mrs Richardson said she entered the office to see male colleagues “pretending to bump into each other” while Jowett said: “Don’t do that, it is sexual harassment” causing the room to laugh at her.
In his judgement, employment Judge Saleem Ahmed said: “Mr Jowett continued to make the occasional remark about the Claimant’s personal life in the presence of others with no restraint or admonition from his supervisors.
“It is the Claimant’s evidence, which we accept, that at times Mr (Justin) Carter (the team coach) and others were present on such occasions they took no steps to prevent or condemn such behaviour.”
Mrs Richardson worked at transport company Neovia Logistics, Leicestershire as an agency worker with Flex Recruitment Plus at the time of the allegations.
She has worked in the industry since she was 16-years-old and is has taken qualifications to further her career.
The Leicester Employment Tribunal heard that Jowett was a permanent member of staff at Neovia and began to make “crude remarks about her partner and her sex life” when the divorcee started seeing a delivery driver at the company, around February 2015.
After a car accident in June that year, Mrs Richardson was unable to work in the warehouse and found herself working side-by-side with Jowett in a back office.
She told the tribunal that Jowett would give her “bear hugs” despite her repeated protests.
On at least two occasions the married man’s hands crept across her chest, brushing against her breasts, as he went in for a “prolonged” hug.
Judge Ahmed said: “We accept her evidence that she did not welcome hugging nor was it ever reciprocated.
“We also accept the Claimant’s evidence that she repeatedly told Mr Jowett not to hug or touch her. ”
Over the next few months, Jowett increasingly found opportunities to touch Mrs Richardson, the tribunal heard, including plugging in his phone to charge next to her desk so he could lean across and touch her arm.
On November 6th, Jowett put his arms around her in a “bear hug”, brushing her breasts.
On November 13th, Mrs Richardson said Jowett slid his hand across her breasts and on to her elbow to hug her in front of a delivery driver.
In evidence, Jowett admitting to telling the driver: “She loves it really”.
Judge Ahmed said: “It is the Claimant’s evidence, which we accept, that at times others were present on such occasions they took no steps to prevent or condemn such behaviour.”
She told the tribunal that “many of the male managers appeared to show support” for Jowett.
She began to suffer from panic attacks and depression complaining of a “lack of sleep, being tearful and being unable to keep calm”.
She was initially told by Neovia her complaint had been investigated and resolved, with Jowett receiving counselling, but was shocked he had not been suspended.
At a meeting with onsite manager Amanda Davey on 9 December about her formal complaint, she found Jowett was also present at the meeting.
The meeting concluded with Jowett told not to approach Mrs Richardson and with the promise he would be suspended after a formal written complaint had been re-submitted.
When Mrs Richardson arrived at the office the next day however, she found that Jowett was still at work.
After taking time off due to stress the agency, Flex Recruitment Plus, sent her a letter inviting her to attend a meeting about her “unsatisfactory” attendance.
Mrs Richardson submitted a sick note from her GP, signing her off from work from 18 December.
In an email on 21 December, Ms Davey told her: “If you do not work your hours you are contracted it will be a breach of contract and may lead to further investigation or disciplinary.”
Judge Ahmed ruled that Mrs Richardson was victimised and ostracised by Flex Recruitment Plus.
He also upheld her complaint against Neovia that she had been sexually harassed by Jowett, who “crossed the line” when he had been told not to touch her.
He concluded: “We accept that Mr Jowett had behaved in the manner that he did towards the Claimant for some considerable time and that a culture of accepting such behaviour had prevailed.
“Mr Jowett accepts that he ‘crossed the line’ on 13 November when he had previously been told that he was not to touch her although in reality he had crossed the line earlier.”
The tribunal adjourned a compensation hearing for the sides to come to a settlement. Flex Recruitment Plus is now in voluntary liquidation.
Speaking after the decision, Mrs Richardson said: “It has been a nightmare for me.”