Wed, 17 May 2023 at 2:29 pm BST
An IT worker sued for sexual harassment after her “rich and powerful” male boss marked parts of an email where he wanted more information with “xx”, which she thought were kisses.
Karina Gasparova, a project manager, also claimed Aleksander Goulandris’s use of question marks in the same message were code for asking her when she would be “ready to engage in sexual acts”.
In a number of other innocent work-related incidents where she would find a “sinister motive”, Ms Gasparova thought his renaming a file with his initials AJG was an acronym for A Jumbo Genital.
Ms Gasparova took her employer, the paperless documents firm essDOCS, to the tribunal claiming sexual harassment.
But now a judge has thrown out her case, ruling that she has a “skewed perception of everyday events” and regularly misinterpreted “innocuous” interactions.
The tribunal, held in central London, heard she started working at essDOCS, which is based in the capital, as an IT project manager in November 2019 under Mr Goulandris, the co-head and former chief executive.
The panel heard Ms Gasparova told bosses she thought he wanted to have a sexual relationship with her, but was treating her badly because she had “rejected his advances”.
She claimed this included shouting at her, undermining her in meetings with clients and removing key elements of work from her, but the panel rejected these claims.
Ms Gasparova told the panel Mr Goulandris was a “rich and powerful man” and therefore his conduct had not been “overt” as “a man in his position would be too clever” to make obvious moves.
The panel ruled this meant her case “rested on interpreting seemingly innocent interactions” between Mr Goulandris and herself and “finding a sinister motive in them”.
‘A Jumbo Genital’
Included in a string of claims which were dismissed by the panel, Ms Gasparova interpreted Mr Goulandris renaming a draft presentation file with his initials “AJG” in brackets as standing for “A Jumbo Genital”.
The same month, when Mr Goulandris asked her when a project would be finished, she told the tribunal he burst out shouting with an “extremely angry voice”, saying “I need date, date, date”.
Ms Gasparova interpreted this as having been asked “the exact date when I would finally agree on sexual contact with him”.
The panel heard later that month that Mr Goulandris had emailed Ms Gasparova asking for information on a project. To indicate what details he required her to fill in he used XX, YY and ???? in the message, written in red.
The tribunal heard she interpreted the Xs as meaning kisses, the Ys as sexual contact of some kind and the question marks as when she would be “ready to engage in sexual acts”’.
In April 2021, she submitted a detailed grievance claim, in which all of her sexual harassment allegations were dismissed. She appealed in May 2021 but it was again rejected so she resigned.
Employment Judge Emma Burns said: “Our primary reasons for rejecting her account of events were that we considered her perception of everyday events was skewed.
“She demonstrated a tendency to make extraordinary allegations without evidence and she contradicted herself in a way that could not be attributable to a fallible memory.
“Ms Gasparova interpreted entirely innocent work-related conduct, some of it accidental, by Mr Goulandris as having a sinister intent.”
Ms Gasparova was also ordered to pay £5,000 in costs to essDOCS following her failure to comply in time with parts of the tribunal procedures.