Woman called a 'good girl' by boss at 'toxic' firm wins sexual harassment payout

11 April 2022, 18:28 | Updated: 11 April 2022, 19:15

Frances Fricker was subjected to "unwanted sexual advances" from her "condescending" boss Giuseppe Ajroldi
Frances Fricker was subjected to "unwanted sexual advances" from her "condescending" boss Giuseppe Ajroldi. Picture: Twitter/Linkedin

By Megan Hinton

An accounts executive has won a sexual harassment employment tribunal, after she was repeatedly called a "good girl" by her boss despite objecting to the "demeaning" phrase.

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Frances Fricker, 39, has won a compensation claim against £3billion consultancy firm Gartner, after her boss mocked her weight and used sexist language repeatedly in the workplace, the tribunal heard.

The accounts executive was subjected to "unwanted sexual advances" from her "condescending" boss Giuseppe Ajroldi whilst working at the company headquarters in Egham, Surrey, and an office in London.

The tribunal heard how Ms Fricker was repeatedly called "good girl" by Mr Ajroldi even after she "showed her irritation" by telling her boss it was "condescending" and that she was an "independent woman".

Mr Ajroldo also mocked Ms Fricker's weight by showing her photos from her Facebook profile, then laughing, saying "she looked fat".

Another time he is said to have puffed out his cheeks and pretended to be overweight, making her feel "degraded and humiliated".

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The tribunal heard Mr Ajroldi used the patronising phrase twice more that month in February 2018.

In August 2018 Mr Ajroldi "insisted" in joining Ms Fricker on an overnight business trip where he made "unwanted sexual advances" towards her including attempting to "kiss and touch" her in her hotel room.

He was "apologetic the following morning and promised it would never happen again" when Ms Fricker said "in very clear terms that this behaviour needed to stop".

She later felt forced to delete a dating app after Mr Ajroldi joked about signing up to it, whilst pretending to be someone else so his wife did not find out.

Ms Fricker said she felt "shocked, disgusted and threatened" after he suggested it would be funny if he organised a date with her disguised as someone else and turned up instead of the person that she thought she was meeting.

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Ms Fricker complained about her boss' behaviour but was told that she had "participated in the behaviour".

Mr Ajroldi later left the company - but was not sacked - but Ms Fricker then began to be harassed by other male colleagues, including being called an "oxygen thief".

She resigned in October 2019, telling bosses: "The continued bullying, victimisation and less favourable treatment I've received as a result of a previous harassment grievance, not creating a safe environment to work in, forcing me to work in a hostile environment and not sporting a reasonable request to move into a different team to allow me to perform well is the final act and one I can no longer tolerate."

Employment Judge Gary Tobin ruled: "We are an experienced Tribunal and note that documentary evidence indicating such a discriminatory culture is rare.

"The harassment started slightly at first with comments, particularly about her appearance and her standing (i.e. good girl) which then escalated into inappropriate advances.

"Language evolves over time. Words and phrases that might once have seemed harmless are now regarded as racial, homophobic and sexist slurs.

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"Some phrases, whilst not regarded as taboo, are generally regarded as inappropriate in the workplace.

"Referring to a woman in her late-30s with a school-age child as a girl is demeaning.

"We find Ms Fricker was sexually harassed and treated less favourably because of her rejection of the harassment.

"Ms Fricker's claims of constructive unfair dismissal also succeeded, though other complaints of sex discrimination and victimisation failed."

A corporate spokesperson for Gartner said: "We are extremely disappointed in the ruling of the UK Employment Tribunal. 

"We do not believe the evidence supports the ruling and we are currently determining potential next steps, including whether we will appeal this decision. 

"At Gartner, we are committed to creating an inclusive culture where every associate feels safe, respected and empowered to do their best work."

Compensation will be determined at a later date.