Female council staff 'robotic Stepford Wives' jibe

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The Independent Online
THE chief executive of a Labour council accused of sexually discriminating against his deputy said yesterday that she was the one who "undermined and intimidated" women officers and referred to them as "Stepford Wives".

Stephen Bundred, head of Camden council, in north London - hailed by Tony Blair as one of New Labour's flagship authorities - denied that he bullied and humiliated deputy chief executive Amanda Kelly.

Mrs Kelly, an Oxford-educated solicitor who joined the council in November 1993, is claiming sex discrimination, saying Mr Bundred tried to force her out of the council.

At an industrial tribunal in central London, Mr Bundred said Mrs Kelly had shown disinterest in her job and had been aggressive and threatening towards him and her colleagues.

He told the tribunal how she said top-ranking female officers at the council were "robotic and docile" like the women portrayed in the film The Stepford Wives.

He said: "In e-mail she made frequent and unflattering remarks about members. I told her she should give proper respect to officers."

Mr Bundred said he had acted properly with Mrs Kelly during regular meetings and appraisals but found her attitude and responses showed disinterest. He said: "I had high regard for her abilities as a no-nonsense manager and I had confidence in her as a responsible manager. But my view was tempered by serious doubts about her judgement."

The tribunal was told how, in an appraisal given by Mr Bundred of Mrs Kelly in April last year, he expressed his dissatisfaction with her attitude.

He said Mrs Kelly replied: "You should give me six months' money then I would go."

Mrs Kelly had previously told the tribunal that the council's "aggressive male culture" led to her being groped by a male colleague.

She said the prevalent "misogynist atmosphere" led a senior colleague to approach her on the terrace of a hotel where she had been attending a strategy meeting.

She claimed the man was extremely drunk and started to molest her, stroking her upper body, breast and right leg.

She wanted to complain after the incident in July 1994 but was told to keep it secret by the council's chief of personnel.

When the tribunal opened she said Mr Bundred claimed unfounded allegations against her of gross misconduct and incompetence. She said this was an example of the "glass ceiling of chauvinism" which she and other female employees faced.

Mrs Kelly said that men who were junior to her were allowed more responsibility than her.

She and Mr Bundred worked together to control a pounds 600m budget.

Yesterday, Mr Bundred denied all the allegations presented by Mrs Kelly and insisted she was never undermined by male colleagues or himself. He said: "I did not treat her as my assistant and none of the members present thought I had done so. But she was of the view that I had."

The tribunal was adjourned until today.

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