An academic has lost a legal battle against the University of Oxford after he was made to undergo anti-harassment training when a colleague complained he tried to kiss her.
Oleg Iourin, 63, was cleared of making sexual advances towards the woman but was still made to take the course which he called ‘humiliating and insulting’.
He tried to sue the university after he claimed he had been the victim of ‘outrageous feminist complaints’ for his ‘clumsy’ attempt to kiss his colleague.
However, an employment tribunal has now ruled that Oxford’s decision to send him on the ‘equality and diversity’ training was justified given his behaviour.
The hearing heard that the colleague, named as Ms A, complained in 2016 that Dr Iourin had harassed her by trying to kiss her in his car before leaving a note on her computer and giving her flowers to apologise.
In the note he wrote: ‘I have been a bit clumsy. Sorry. Hope you are not irritated.’
As the two worked in close proximity, bosses decided it would be best for Dr Iourin to work from home while the claim was investigated.
Dr Iourin, who had worked as a post doctoral research scientist in structural biology at Oxford for 23 years, argued his actions should be seen as ‘good will gestures between friends’.
He defended himself saying: ‘Can an attempt to kiss your friend after providing a lift home be harassment?’
The tribunal in Reading, Berkshire, heard the university initially decided that Ms A’s claims of sexual harassment were not well founded.
However, after she launched an appeal it was concluded that while Dr Iourin’s conduct was ‘unwanted’, it was not ‘of a sexual nature’ and he was allowed to return to work.
A university report said: ‘The chocolates and note from [Dr Iourin] indicate a degree of remorse and embarrassment consistent with an attempted “clumsy” kiss and also indicate a personality that is not likely to be aggressive in our view…
‘In summary, we find, on balance of probabilities, that there was an attempted hug and kiss and that (he) most likely did hold or touch [Ms A] on her shoulder when he moved to kiss or hug her.
‘We do not find that this was forceful or aggressive.’
‘Both parties describe their relationship in familial terms, with (Dr Iourin) suggesting that [Ms A] was “like a daughter” and [Ms A] stating she regarded (him) as “a grandfatherly type person”,’ it added.
Despite the findings, it was heard Dr Iourin was made to go on the ‘intensive one to one course’ to ensure he did not ‘misinterpret’ physical contact in the future.
Dr Iourin told the tribunal he had a ‘spotless’ record at Oxford and launched complaints against the university alleging sexual discrimination, victimisation and disability discrimination.
In his claim to the hearing, he argued: ‘(Dr Iourin) who proved his innocence from allegations of harassment and suffered severe injustice during the investigation, was subject to mobbing with request to undertake humiliating and insulting training about harassment.’
Employment Judge Stephen Vowles rejected his claims and said the requirement to undertake the training was justified by the appeal outcome.
He said: ‘Harassment is commonly a part of equality and diversity training, and appropriate in this case as the grievance committee had found that there was harassment, though not amounting to sexual harassment.’
Judge Vowles added that Ms A had not been required to undertake training as there was no finding of ‘unacceptable conduct’ on her part.
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