Daily Mail

Payout for the council duo wrongly accused of office affair

- By Andy Jehring

AN ACCOUNTANT and his younger female recruit have won a tribunal payout after a disgruntle­d colleague spread office rumours that they were having an affair.

Oxford-educated Francis Austin, 57, and his colleague Monika Newton, 42, were victims of sexual harassment by Lesley Shields, 57, in the finance team at Kensington and Chelsea Council.

Miss Shields became upset when £150,000-a-year Mr Austin brought in the younger woman without consultati­on to help with its response to the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster.

She told Miss Newton, who was being paid the equivalent of £100,000 a year, that she was not happy with the way she had been appointed by Mr Austin on her first day in November 2019.

Miss Shields said she did not think the programme manager’s role was necessary before telling colleagues she was a ‘bitch’ and a *c**t’. She then gossiped that the head of finance might be sleeping with Miss Newton and claimed they were skipping work to spend time together.

On one occasion when Mr Austin and Miss Newton went for an appointmen­t, Miss Shields told staff that the pair ‘must have gone to a hotel’ – and later suggested they were having oral sex.

Miss Newton heard about the rumours and told her boss it was ‘sexual harassment’ which was ‘extremely distressin­g, derogatory and offensive’.

She and Mr Austin complained about the comments and a council investigat­ion saw Miss Shields given a warning, but it dismissed separate allegation­s she was working slowly on purpose to extend her contract.

When the local authority later ended their lucrative rolling contracts, the pair took the council to an employment tribunal. Yesterday the panel in central London agreed they had been victims of unwanted sexual conduct by Miss Shields.

But it dismissed further claims of sexual discrimina­tion, victimisat­ion and that they had been treated badly for whistleblo­wing against Miss Shields for slowing down their project.

The panel said Miss Shields’ purpose ‘appears to have been to vent her frustratio­ns about Mr Austin and Miss Newton to her colleagues’.

Alleging they were having ‘sexual relations rather than working’ would have ‘violated their dignity’ and created a ‘humiliatin­g environmen­t’ for them, it said.

‘The extreme vitriol involved in describing a colleague as a “c**t”, arose, we concluded, from the particular level of resentment created by the combinatio­n of factors we have identified, including the perception... that Mr Austin and Miss Newton might be having an affair.’

Employment Judge Natasha Joffe heard how tensions were already high between group secretary Miss Shields and her boss over their slow progress before the new recruit arrived.

Mr Austin had previously worked with Miss Newton, an experience­d project manager, and brought her onboard to help with a ‘housing legacy’ project to support Grenfell residents who had been placed in temporary accommodat­ion.

Miss Shields said she was left feeling under increasing work pressure as there was a change in her boss’s behaviour.

‘He came in to work late and went home early, and often took Miss Newton for lunch,’ she said.

Miss Shields told the hearing she ‘regretted’ her comments about them sleeping together but became infuriated that they would not come back when they left for appointmen­ts after lunch.

The panel concluded that unless the pair and the council can come to an agreement themselves, a further hearing would be held next year to determine compensati­on.

‘Violated their dignity’

 ?? ?? Experience­d: Monika Newton was hired on the equivalent of £100,000-a-year by Mr Austin HAND-PICKED
Experience­d: Monika Newton was hired on the equivalent of £100,000-a-year by Mr Austin HAND-PICKED
Finance boss: Francis Austin
COUNCIL CHIEF Finance boss: Francis Austin
 ?? ?? GOSSIP
Resentment: Lesley Shields
GOSSIP Resentment: Lesley Shields
 ?? ?? Blaze: Grenfell in 2017
Blaze: Grenfell in 2017

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