Calling women “good girls” in the workplace is sexual harassment, judge rules

A court found in favor of Frances Fricker who raised a complaint when her male boss continuously called her “good girl” as well as calling her fat in photos and making advances

The court found Frances Fricker was sexually harassed (stock image)

A judge has issued a warning about sexist language in the workplace after a British female executive successfully sued a £3 billion company when her boss called her a “good girl”.

Frances Fricker complained when her boss, Giuseppe Ajroldi from international business consultancy firm Gartner, continuously used the term despite her asking him not to.

The court heard he 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.

On several occasions he replied to her working saying “good girl”.

The court found in her favour, noting how “language evolves over time” and eleven “harmless phrases” are now seen as racial, homophobic and sexist.”

The tribunal noted how language changes over time (picture posed by model)


Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The panel heard Mr Ajroldi also ‘frequently’ referred to Ms Fricker as a ‘good girl’, which she responded to on one occasion with a ‘facepalm’ emoji alongside the female gender symbol.

She added ‘I’m an independent woman for goodness sake’, to which Mr Ajroldi ‘played dumb’ and replied ‘good girl is not appropriate…?’.

After telling him the phrase was ‘just a little condescending’ he hit back saying ‘sorry, I didn’t want to offend an independent woman’.

The court heard Mr Ajroldi used the patronizing phrase twice more that month in February 2018, with Ms Fricker telling him: “I’m not even going to respond.”

After he promised not to call her the name again she answered his original question, and Mr Ajroldi replied: “Ok, thanks good girl.”

In August 2018 Mr Ajroldi ‘insisted’ in joining Ms Fricker on an overnight business trip and was rebuffed after making ‘unwanted sexual advances’ towards her including attempting to ‘kiss and touch’ her in her hotel room.

He apologized the following morning and Ms Fricker told him explicitly that this behavior ‘needed to stop’.

But the following month she felt ‘shocked, disgusted and threatened’ after Mr Ajroldi suggested it would be ‘funny’ if he organized a date with her ‘disguised as someone else’ on a dating app she used.

When she raised a grievance against Mr Ajroldi, Ms Fricker was told managers regarded his behavior as ‘reciprocal’ and that she had ‘participated in the behaviour’.

Now, after being forced into resigning, mother Ms Fricker is in line to win compensation after suing Gartner for sexual harassment.

The court heard Mr Ajroldi was part of a ‘toxic’ and male-dominated culture at Gartner, which has a Europe headquarters in Egham, Surrey, and an office in London.

Mr Ajroldi later left the company – but was not sacked – but Ms Fricker was still harassed by other male colleagues, including being called an ‘oxygen thief’.

She resigned in October 2019, telling bosses: “The continued bullying, victimization and less favorable 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 said the extent of such a ‘discriminatory’ culture was ‘rare’ in his experience, and added language which may once have appeared ‘harmless’ now had a different meaning.

He said: “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 (ie 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.

“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 found Ms Fricker was sexually harassed and treated less favorably because of her rejection of the harassment.”

Ms Fricker’s claims of constructive unfair dismissal also succeeded, though other complaints of sex discrimination and victimization failed.

Compensation will be determined at a later date.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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