Tribunal rejects male cleaner's sex harassment claim: Worker tells of female manager's advances

A MALE cleaner who claimed to have been gradually deprived of his livelihood after rejecting the sexual advances of a female senior manager 'old enough to be his mother' was not dismissed for sexual reasons, a London industrial tribunal concluded yesterday.

Lee Nugent, 24, of Heston, west London, said Joy Evans, an operations manager for Initial Cleaning Services, one of the country's largest contract cleaners, squeezed his thigh and made suggestive remarks in an ICS van when they went to inspect some public lavatories he cleaned for Spelthorne Borough Council in August 1992.

He told the north London tribunal that Mrs Evans, a middle-aged divorcee, of Brentford, west London, started 'telling me how lonely she was and that she used to have a young lover. She used to wake up in the night scared and had bought herself a white polar bear for something to hold but you cannot beat the real thing'.

Later, as they were about to get out of the van to inspect another public convenience, Mr Nugent said Mrs Evans put her hand on top of his thigh and asked him if he found her attractive. 'I laughed out loud with embarrassment. I said 'You are old enough to be my mother. You should not say this'.'

After visiting a third public lavatory Mr Nugent said that Mrs Evans asked him about his hobbies and said she liked to go swimming but had no one to go with. 'It felt to me as though she was waiting for me to offer to take her swimming and start some kind of thing up.'

He was surprised, but did not reply, nor make an immediate complaint to the company because he was too embarrassed, the tribunal was told.

Mrs Evans denied touching Mr Nugent's thigh, or making suggestive remarks to him. She said he was 'quite a good cleaner' but the number of hours he was working daily meant he could not do his jobs properly.

Mr Nugent earned pounds 273 per week gross, starting work at 6am. He spent most of his 17-hour day cleaning the lavatories and then working at night as a cleaner on four office cleaning contracts.

A week later Mrs Evans took one of his contracts away, saying that he had too many evening jobs and the quality of his work was suffering. A couple of weeks after this, he said, she took another contract away from him claiming that his cleaning work was 'rotten'. He was offered another cleaning job, but it did not pay well enough, Mr Nugent told the tribunal.

Subsequently, another contract ended because the company moved buildings and Mr Nugent said the fourth contract was taken away from him by an area manager who said the quality of his cleaning was not good enough.

Mr Nugent said yesterday that in removing his contracts he thought Mrs Evans was exercising a 'personal grudge' against him. He said there had been no complaints from clients about the quality of his work despite his long working hours.

Lynn Thomas, for ICS, said Mr Nugent had 'completely fabricated' his account to extract compensation from the company.

Quinton Barry, the tribunal's chairman, said that although a conversation which Mr Nugent was entitled to regard as suggestive did take place, it was an isolated incident and would not, without further incidents, be enough to establish that sexual discrimination had taken place.