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Natasha Woolley made unproven claims of sexual harassment against a colleague in the hope she might ‘deflect’ complaints she faced for breaching strict Covid-19 rules, a tribunal heard
A company manageress made unproven claims of sexual harassment against a senior colleague in the hope she might ‘deflect’ a dressing down she faced for breaching strict Covid-19 hygiene rules, a tribunal heard.
Natasha Woolley, who is in her 40s, alleged Stephen Apsey had massaged her back and shoulders and asked if she wore stockings and suspenders.
The claims came after learning she had been reported for leaving a lipstick-stained facemask on her desk
Although Mrs Woolley admitted the Covid breach, senior executives at Interhaul-Pallet Service in Pontypridd, South Wales, dropped the facemask complaint against her when she verbally outlined her allegations against Mr Apsey.
Later when they subsequently cleared him of wrongdoing, she sued for sexual discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
Operations boss Mr Apsey, who is married and in his 50s, denied any sexual misconduct.
At an employment tribunal in Cardiff, Mrs Woolley’s claims against the firm were thrown out after a judge concluded she had been ‘potentially seeking to deflect the disciplinary action against her.’
She had earlier withdrawn her allegations against Mr Apsey.
The hearing was told she has been off sick from her role as business development manager – 13 months since she made her complaint against Mr Apsey.
It is unlikely she would have lost her job over the Covid breach although she had previously been spoken to informally on a number of occasions over breaches of mask-wearing and one-way system rules and not working from home sufficiently.
Mrs Woolley joined Interhaul in 2018 and was said to have a good working relationship with her line managers but trouble began in February 2021 when an accounts manager found a used facemask on Mrs Woolley’s desk which was stained with lipstick and mascara.
A senior executive later texted Mrs Woolley asking her if she had left a ‘manky mask’ on a desk.
She responded asking if he ‘was serious’ and later expressed ‘upset and anger’ over the complaint.
Pictured: Natasha Woolley, who is in her 40s, alleged senior colleague married Stephen Apsey had massaged her back and shoulders and asked if she wore stockings and suspenders
Later when bosses accused her of failing to take Covid safety compliance at work seriously, Mrs Woolley said the firm had become a ‘horrible company’ and accused Mr Apsey who shared an office with her of being a ‘horrible man’.
She initially declined to elaborate on her remarks but when told disciplinary proceedings would go ahead, she asked for an ‘off the record’ discussion in which she claimed Mr Apsey massaged her shoulders and back with his hands and relayed alleged details of an affair he had with a married woman.
She also accused Mr Apsey of describing how he ‘pleasured’ women with oral sex, asked Mrs Woolley if her own pubic area was shaved, rubbed a cut on the top of her hand and asked her if she was wearing stockings and suspenders.
When shocked executives encouraged her to make a formal complaint against Mr Apsey, Mrs Woolley was initially ‘upset and undecided’ not knowing if she wanted the ‘hassle’ – but the following day agreed to go ahead.
Mr Apsey was eventually quizzed about Mrs Woolley’s claims but he said she told him of dates she had been on with a number of men she had met via a dating app.
He also said she ‘had a particularly explicit sense of humour’ and a ‘level of banter’.
Mr Apsey said he did place his hands on Mrs Woolley’s shoulders but only accidentally when he had tripped over her handbag near her desk and put his hand out to steady himself. He said he had apologised to her the following day.
Stephen Apsey denied misconduct and was cleared after an investigation by their company
A subsequent investigation by the company concluded Mrs Woolley made her allegations against Mr Apsey in response to ‘monetary issues, wanting a company car, his attempts to require her to produce a sales report and being required to attend a disciplinary hearing’.
She appealed complaining Mr Apsey had been given ‘favourable treatment’ in that he had not been suspended whereas she had been placed to work from home on flexible furlough – but her appeal was rejected in August 2021.
In dismissing Mrs Woolley’s claims tribunal judge Rhian Brace said: ‘We did not find that Stephen Apsey had engaged in conduct as alleged. We also concluded the claimant could have had motivation to be less than candid.
‘She was annoyed that her Covid breach had been raised and was potentially seeking to deflect the disciplinary action against her for the Covid breach and comments made by her.
‘The claimant had not complained at all about Stephen Apsey until she had been questioned about the mask, and did not raise her specific allegations until the disciplinary meeting itself.
‘The claimant did not commit detail to her allegations, in writing or otherwise at all, despite being encouraged to do so.
‘She was being challenged on her compliance with Covid arrangements and clearly unhappy in that regard.
‘Her allegations were raised in response to being challenged about her own conduct on a matter entirely unrelated to Stephen Apsey and raised in conjunction with her expressing general unhappiness about her general working conditions and terms.’