A senior accountant and his young colleague won a sexual harassment case against the authority after a colleague accused them of having an affair.
Oxford-trained Francis Austin had personally recruited Monika Newton to join his finance team supporting the Kensington and Chelsea Council response to the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017.
But an employment tribunal has heard that Ms Newton’s arrival has upset her deputy Lesley Shields, who has become suspicious that they are avoiding work to spend time together.
She openly suggested to her colleagues that the couple were sleeping together.
And when they went out on a date, she told a coworker that they must have been to the hotel before adding, “She sucks his cock now.”
Mr Austin, who was paid the equivalent of around £ 150,000 a year, and Ms Newton, who was hired for an equivalent of over £ 100,000 a year, complained about Ms Shields’ comments.
And when the board terminated their continuing contracts, Mr Austin and Ms Newton took the council to an employment tribunal, claiming they had been the victim of unwanted sexual behavior by Ms Shields.
They claimed they had been sexually discriminated against, victimized and abused for raising an alert against Ms Shields – who they said had deliberately slowed down the project.
The panel – chaired by labor judge Natasha Joffe – rejected the other claims.
But she agreed that Ms Shields’ remarks to her colleagues were sexual harassment. Mr. Austin and Ms. Newton are now online for payments.
Oxford-trained Francis Austin had personally recruited Monika Newton (pictured) to join his finance team supporting Kensington and Chelsea Council’s response to the 2017 fire, which claimed the lives of 72 people.
Mr Austin, who was paid the equivalent of around £ 150,000 a year, and Ms Newton, who was hired for an equivalent of over £ 100,000 a year, complained about comments suggesting he was having an affair with Mrs. Newton.
The central London court heard that Mr Austin had joined the local authority on an ongoing contract as deputy chief financial officer in March 2017.
Under his contract he was paid £ 650 per day, the equivalent of an annual salary of over £ 150,000.
In June of that year, the Grenfell Tower fire claimed the lives of 72 people and Mr Austin was appointed chief financial officer for the team tasked with the council’s response to the tragedy.
Ms Shields – the group’s accountant on the board – was his assistant, the court heard.
In the fall of 2019, the audience was told that tensions were growing between the two men over the slowness with which the team’s work was being completed.
At the same time, Mr Austin met Ms Newton – an experienced project manager with whom he had previously worked – to discuss joining the team to help with a disaster-related ‘heritage housing’ project.
The court heard that without leave he had hired Ms Newton on a short-term contract of £ 450 a day, equivalent to over £ 100,000 a year.
On Ms Newton’s first day in November, the court heard Ms Shields tell her new colleague that she was unhappy with the way she had been appointed and that she was not convinced her role was necessary.
The court heard that without leave Mr Austin had hired Ms Newton on a short-term contract of £ 450 per day, equivalent to over £ 100,000 per year.
Ms Shields – who felt under increasing professional pressure – told the court that Mr Austin’s behavior changed after Ms Newton’s appointment.
“He arrived late for work and got home early, and often took Ms. Newton for lunch,” she said.
“There were grunts in the team about how little work Mr. Austin was doing.
“Mr. Austin was going to all of Mrs. Newton’s meetings when he didn’t need to.”
The audience was told that shortly after arriving, Ms Shields called Ms Newton about her colleagues a “c ***” and a “bitch.”
Ms Shields told the hearing that on November 29, Mr Austin and Ms Shields arrived late for work and then went to lunch together.
“She said they gathered their bags and coats at 1:45 p.m. and Ms Shields asked where they were going,” the court said. “They said they were going to the Tower.
“Mrs. Shields asked why and they said they were going (a meeting) and Mrs. Newton wanted to see the tower.
Ms Shields checked (the) newspaper which did not indicate such a meeting. Ms Shields said she was frustrated because she thought they were avoiding work.
“They didn’t have to go to the Tower. They could have made the round trip in an hour but they did not come back. ‘
“The whole team was under pressure, but they seemed to waste time and money.
“She worked evenings and weekends herself and was under pressure to meet budget deadlines and had personal issues.
“She said people were commenting and chatting about Ms. Newton and Mr. Austin’s movements.
“Ms. Shields agreed to say something like, ‘she (Ms. Newton) sucks her (Mr. Austin) c ** k about now” to (a coworker).
“She said she regretted it immediately and apologized.”
Chief Financial Officer Ronica Barard told the hearing Ms Shields initially approached the bank of offices where she and others were seated and said Mr Austin had nothing in his diary, so she didn’t know where they were.
“She said they had to have a hotel room,” Ms Barard told the court.
“About half an hour later, Mrs. Shields approached the offices again and said, ‘She must be sucking his cock right now.
Over the following months, tensions between the trio escalated.
In January 2020, following an argument with Ms Newton, the court heard that Ms Shields had warned her: “Do not stray from me, young woman.”
And Mr Austin began to believe his deputy was conspiring with co-workers to deliberately slow down their pace of work in order to extend their own contracts, it was said at the hearing.
Upon learning that Ms Shields had told co-workers that she suspected an affair, Ms Newton complained to Mr Austin: “This is sexual harassment in the workplace and, as such, extremely distressing, derogatory and offensive. ”
The council launched an investigation which led to Ms Shields being warned of her behavior.
But he dismissed Mr Austin’s claims that she was working slowly on purpose.
In June of that year, the Grenfell Tower fire claimed the lives of 72 people and Mr Austin was appointed chief financial officer of the team helping the council’s response to the tragedy.
Finding that the housing legacy project was unnecessary, the local authority decided not to extend Ms Newton’s contract beyond the end of March 2020.
And the following month, Mr. Austin was told his contract was also terminated.
The couple took the counsel to court on charges of sex discrimination, victimization and that they had been abused for whistleblowing.
The panel – chaired by labor judge Natasha Joffe – dismissed the other allegations but agreed Ms Shields’ remarks to her colleagues were sexual harassment.
“(His) goal seems to have been to voice his frustrations over Mr Austin and Ms Newton to his colleagues,” he said.
Alleging that they had “sex rather than work” would have “violated their dignity” and created a “humiliating environment” for them, he said.
“The extreme vitriol involved in describing a coworker as a ‘c ***’ arose, we concluded, from the particular level of resentment created by the combination of factors we identified, including perception. .. that Mr. Austin and Mrs. Newton may be having an affair.
The panel said unless the couple and council themselves come to an agreement, a new hearing will be held next year to determine compensation.