Female head teacher sexually harassed male worker by saying he looked 'fit' in Speedos

Shelagh O'Shea
Shelagh O'Shea signed off emails to teaching assistant Nikoloz Papashvili with a kiss and said she wanted him to 'meet the parents'

A female head teacher sexually harassed a male teaching assistant by saying he looked “fit” in Speedos, a tribunal heard.

Inappropriate comments made by senior women to younger men have “no place in the modern workplace”, an employment judge ruled after hearing the case of school worker Nikoloz Papashvili.

Such remarks should be liable to scrutiny in the same way comments made by older men to young women are, he said.

Mr Papashvili became the subject of staffroom “banter” when colleagues laughed at sexual innuendos made by head teacher Shelagh O’Shea, an employment tribunal heard.

Mrs O’Shea signed off emails to the teaching assistant with a kiss and said she wanted him to “meet the parents”.

Mr Papashvili took Belvue School in Ealing, west London, to an employment tribunal after he was dismissed for “skiving” off work to go on a summer holiday to Croatia.

The tribunal ruled in his favour for claims of sexual harassment and unfair dismissal – concluding the investigation that led to him being fired was “profoundly unfair”.

Seven occasions of sexual harassment

Now, Mr Papashvili has won £9,309 and the tribunal has revoked an anonymity order that previously meant Mrs O’Shea and Belvue School could not be identified.

The hearing in Watford heard Mr Papashvili was sexually harassed by Mrs O’Shea on seven occasions over two years, from 2017 to 2019.

“The consistent theme in these allegations was Mrs O’Shea remarking upon (Mr Papashvili’s) supposedly fit body and his Speedos”, a tribunal judgment said.

Mr Papashvili claimed he had been “used and abused” by the head teacher who had made “unwanted sexual advances” and, in June 2020, told him she wanted to take him to “meet the parents”.

The tribunal heard from the school’s caretaker, who said he and other members of staff “teased” Mr Papashvili about the head teacher’s “remarks and innuendos”.

Gross misconduct allegations

The hearing in Watford was told Mr Papashvili did not raise sexual harassment concerns until late 2020, when he faced disciplinary proceedings.

It was heard in March 2020, Belvue School closed for most students but a rota was drawn up for staff to continue coming in.

Staff were told they had to attend the secondary school during the final week of term, irrespective of what the rota said – despite Mr Papashvili scheduled to be off.

As a result, he asked to take his holiday early so he could visit his parents in Georgia for his birthday – a request which was denied.

The tribunal heard the head teacher then discovered Mr Papashvili had gone to the pub for “leaving drinks” before “setting off on a European tour” with his girlfriend the next day.

Mrs O’Shea requested to see him however Mr Papashvili called in sick, claiming he had Covid symptoms.

Mrs O’Shea said it was “unacceptable” and launched disciplinary proceedings, however the tribunal found it was unclear what was being investigated.

The tribunal found the school had already “drawn a conclusion” by calling his behaviour “unacceptable”.

Mr Papashvili was signed off sick and faced gross misconduct allegations over lying about his summer absence and loss of trust and confidence.

He subsequently made the sexual harassment complaint.

From a “hostile and intemperate” email, the tribunal concluded it was “clear Mr Papashvili was not going to get a fair determination of his complaint”.

He was sacked in December 2020.

Employment Judge Gary Tobin said “the head teacher who directed the investigation had established the facts to her liking”.

Comments had ‘no place in modern workplace’

At the latest compensation hearing, Judge Tobin said the Speedo comments were unacceptable.

Judge Tobin said: “We believe that Mrs O’Shea thought that she was paying (Mr Papashvili) a compliment and/or that her comments were jokey or risqué.

“We accepted [a colleague’s] previous evidence that he and some other staff teased (Mr Papashvili) about the head teacher’s remarks and innuendos.

“Both language and attitudes to colleagues change over time and comments that might have been prevalent and acceptable in a workplace 30 or 40 years ago are no longer justifiable or tolerated.

“Similar comments made by a senior man, particularly if older, are generally regarded as unacceptable if directed towards a junior or younger female and perhaps, belatedly, such comments made by a female head teacher towards a younger teaching assistant should now similarly be regarded as unacceptable.

“Such comments are not teasing or risqué when the recipient objects and (Mr Papashvili) did object – although sometime after the event.

“We do not think the comments were made directly to (Mr Papashvili); they were made about him in a juvenile manner that increasingly has no place in the modern workplace.

“The harassment amounted to juvenile insinuations from an older woman in a professional environment and this reflected badly upon her.”

Mr Papashvili’s compensation award – £9,309 – was reduced significantly due to his conduct.

The tribunal found Mr Papashvili had been dishonest and told multiple lies, including wanting to go to Georgia and about having Covid.