Lane Nichols is a senior NZ Herald reporter

Real estate agent who sexually harassed and bullied junior colleague guilty of disgraceful misconduct

The defendant would casually undo his fly zip, the tribunal heard. Photo / 123rf
The defendant would casually undo his fly zip, the tribunal heard. Photo / 123rf

A real estate agent who frequently unzipped his fly, made lewd jokes and commented on a junior staff member's breasts and underwear has been found guilty of sexual harassment and bullying.

The female complainant came to a confidential settlement with the agency where the pair worked and reached a settlement with the agent after making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

In a just released Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal decision, the man has been found guilty of disgraceful misconduct and is now awaiting penalty.

The tribunal heard the woman joined the agency in July 2014 as the defendant's personal assistant.

But within months the woman grew concerned by the man's behaviour towards her and sexual language.

In the next few months he was alleged to have called the woman "s**t tits", "ugly" and "pregnant belly".

He was accused of making her stand on a desk and peering up her skirt then commenting on her underwear.

He admitted commenting on her underwear but denied looking up her skirt.

"The defendant would casually undo his fly zip, put his hand in his pants, and zip and unzip his fly zip," the woman alleged.

The tribunal found he had zipped and unzipped his fly in her presence, which was "inappropriate in a shared office".

The man made other lewd comments to the woman and others colleague in the office too offensive to print. He also called her "biscuit nipples" and "slave".

"You might as well walk out now, no one will believe you, the only reason you got the job is because of me," he told the woman.

On another occasion he said she was "bats*** ugly" and "I wouldn't f*** you with a 10 foot barge pole".

The man defended his actions, saying he was only joking and trying to "lighten the mood" and the language was simply office culture.

His lawyer told the tribunal the woman "gave as good as she got" and was "stoic" under cross examination.

It was therefore reasonable for the man to have been unaware of the impact of his remarks.

The woman resigned in January 2015 and the agency director filed a complaint about the man to the Real Estate Agents Authority.

The tribunal, which suppressed the identities of the parties involved, ruled the defendant's statements and conduct amounted to sexual harassment and bullying.

The woman was younger than him, new to the industry, and looked up to him as a mentor.

The man had failed to act in a professional manner, made inappropriate, unwelcome and offensive statements of a sexual nature.

"We are satisfied the defendant's conduct was well over the threshold of 'disgraceful'."

The tribunal added it was "regrettable" that the agency's senior management were not more assertive in preventing the behaviour that occurred.

The matter will now go to a penalty hearing to decide the man's fate.

- NZ Herald

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