If a man had made the remarks, you would think 'he cannot say that', but from another woman it is more threatening

Sacked BUPA worker accuses female team manager of sex discrimination news strapline news strapline
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The mother of a Bupa telephone saleswoman who claims she was sexually harassed by a woman boss told an industrial tribunal that she thought it was a tactic to maintain discipline.

Susan Poole, 44, said a staff meeting where her daughter Joanna and other employees were asked about their sexual history had upset Joanna and was unprofessional. "It was very early in her employment and at the time I thought it was a one-off incident that her team manager was using as a ploy to put her in her place."

Joanna Poole, 22, from Staines, Surrey, claims she was the victim of sex discrimination. She was sacked for "gross misconduct" from her pounds 13,000- a-year post at private health care firm Bupa's offices in Staines.

She says she endured repeated comments about her body and questioning over her sexual background by her team leader, Christine Butland, 26. Ms Poole claims Mrs Butland made references to the size of her breasts, and once "wobbled" her own breasts in front of her.

Ms Poole's mother told the industrial tribunal in Croydon her daughter had become edgy and appeared unhappy after starting the job. "She was not herself any longer," she said.

She added that her daughter had made her swear not to intervene in the situation.

Commenting about Mrs Butland's behaviour, Mrs Poole added: "I felt that it was a very unprofessional way of conducting herself and the woman in question was obviously to be pitied if this is the way she worked in a professional environment."

Ms Poole claims she was sacked after reporting her three-month ordeal to Bupa bosses.

They say she lost her job for making a personal phone call from the office.

Mrs Poole said Mrs Butland's behaviour and remarks were more threatening but harder to characterise because they had come from a woman, rather than a man. "You would immediately think 'he cannot say that to me' ... coming from another woman is odd. It is more threatening in a way," she said.

Mrs Poole believed her daughter was picked on by Mrs Butland because she was a bright, confident girl and Mrs Butland lacked self-confidence and played "power games".

Ms Poole's telesales trainer, Amanda Voss, told the tribunal there was a spontaneous lighthearted discussion about sex after a staff meeting at the Bupa offices last December. It was separate from that meeting.

Employees were not asked about their sexual histories, but freely offered accounts of how they each lost their virginity.

She said she was surprised by Joanna's account: "I thought she was quite explicit in the details that she was giving. It seemed to be quite an horrific account. I am surprised that if it happened that way, that she would say about it."

Ms Voss said there had been no problems with Ms Poole's work and she had been improving steadily in the job after joining the company last autumn.

She admitted remarks were made about Joanna's appearance, but insisted they were complimentary.

"Comments were made but not in the context of a sexual way. Comments like, 'I like your skirt' or, 'you have had your hair cut', or 'you have coloured your hair'. Just compliments, really," she said.

She felt "hurt and angry" by Ms Poole's claim against Bupa, adding: "I feel that she has told a few lies."

The hearing continues.