An IT worker sued for sex harassment after her boss marked an email where he wanted more information with ‘xx’ – which she took for kisses.
Karina Gasparova claimed that Aleksander Goulandris’s use of question marks in the ‘xx’ message were also code for asking her ‘to engage in sexual acts’.
She said her superior was trying to ‘chat her up’ when talking business on a work call where he was running his hands through his hair and ‘staring’ at her, a London employment tribunal heard.
Ms Gasparova took her employers – paperless documents firm essDOCS – to the tribunal claiming sex harassment, discrimination and unfair dismissal. In April 2021 she had submitted a detailed grievance against her boss and resigned when it was rejected twice.
But a judge-led panel has thrown out her case, ruling she has a ‘skewed perception of everyday events’ and regularly misinterpreted ‘innocuous’ interactions.
Ms Gasparova was also ordered to pay £5,000 to essDOCS in costs for failing to comply with tribunal procedures in adequate time.
Karina Gasparova claimed that Aleksander Goulandris’s (pictured) use of question marks in the ‘xx’ message were also code for asking her ‘to engage in sexual acts’.
The tribunal, held in central London, heard she started working at essDOCS – based in the capital – as an IT project manager in November 2019 under the Co-Head and former CEO, Mr Goulandris.
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.
Ms Gasparova told the panel Mr Goulandris was a ‘rich and powerful man’, so 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’.
Ms Gasparova claimed in November 2019, Mr Goulandris touched her leg with his leg under the table and ‘stared at her’, leaving her feeling ‘anxious and uncomfortable’.
The tribunal ruled the incident did occur, but it had been accidental and was ‘innocuous’ in nature.
Karina Gasparova claimed that Aleksander Goulandris’s use of question marks in the ‘xx’ message were also code for asking her ‘to engage in sexual acts’ (STOCK IMAGE)
In a string of other claims which were dismissed by the panel, Ms Gasparova said Mr Goulandris touched her hand when motioning for her computer mouse and missing it.
On a work call in March 2020, she said Mr Goulandris was giving her ‘leering looks’ as he ‘constantly ran his hand through his hair’ and started staring at her in between asking her questions.
The panel heard that although he had been talking to her about business, she interpreted his behaviour ‘as trying to chat her up’ because he was spending so long doing it.
In May 2020, Mr Goulandris renamed a draft presentation file by adding ‘ajg’ in brackets – something Ms Gasparova interpreted as ‘A Jumbo Genital’.
The panel heard Mr Goulandris’ middle name is John and it was his habit to amend file names by adding his initials AJG to the names of documents which he had reviewed.
It was heard when she invited him to a lunch in September 2020, ‘to get some peace’ from him sending ‘lots of messages’ – he declined her offer.
Ms Gasparova told the tribunal this was because ‘lunch involved romance and he only wanted sex’.
She claimed this included shouting at her, undermining her in meetings with clients and removing key elements of work from her (STOCK IMAGE)
The same month, when Mr Gasparova 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’.
In October she complained about receiving an invitation to the same meeting 16 times from Mr Goulandris – but the tribunal found this was not deliberate or sexual in nature.
In January 2021, Mr Goulandris said Ms Gasparovav misinterpreted his politeness for ‘flirting’ when he said ‘have a nice evening’ in what she described as an ‘alluring voice’.
The panel heard later that month, Mr Goulandris emailed Ms Gasparovav 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 x’s as meaning kisses, the y’s as sexual contact of some kind and the question marks as when she would be ‘ready to engage in sexual acts’.
The panel heard Ms Gasparova tried to rally support from fellow female colleagues and asked whether Mr Goulandris had ever made sexual advances like ‘leering, winking and touching’.
Nobody responded to her.
In April 2021, she submitted a detailed grievance, which saw all her sexual harassment allegations dismissed.
She appealed the decision 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.”
The panel threw out her claims of direct sex harassment, discrimination and unfair dismissal were dismissed.