A beauty therapist who sued her boss for sexual harassment after he called her ‘sexy legs’, asked for a full-body massage, and sent porn to her work computer has won a £1,500 payout.
April Freke was left feeling ‘sick’ and ‘frightened’ by Rohit Vikal’s advances which included turning up to her hotel uninvited and frequently touching the badge on her chest, an employment tribunal heard.
The older businessman also told her she needed to get her teeth fixed because ‘everything has to be perfect’ while making repeated requests for her to be his girlfriend.
Less than a year after starting the job Ms Freke resigned, citing harassment as the reason. She was awarded £1,522.05 after Mr Vikal made unlawful deductions from her wages.
An employment judge ruled he had violated her dignity at a time when there was a ‘clear imbalance’ between a young woman starting her career and an ‘established’ businessman offering her the chance to progress.
The hearing in Reading, Berkshire, was told Ms. Freke started work as a beauty therapist at Mr Vikal’s Shapins clinic in Farnham, Surrey in February 2022.
The clinic offers a variety of skin treatments, telling customers ‘The best skin of your life starts here’.
Two months after starting Ms Freke said Mr Vikal asked her for a full body massage.
‘He scheduled it into her timetable without asking her,’ the hearing was told. ‘She refused him and he kept asking and pleading with her for a massage which made her feel uncomfortable.’
The tribunal found his requests made Ms. Freke feel uneasy and ‘under pressure to do something she did not want to do’.
The next month Ms Freke went on a training course which involved her staying overnight in a hotel near Watford.
‘On the evening of 3 May 2023 [Mr Vikal] sent [Ms Freke] a number of text messages stating that he was in the reception area of the hotel and was about to come up to her room.
‘[She] asked him if he was serious, told him she was washing her hair and eventually said she would meet him in reception. She went down to reception and texted him again. [He] then replied that it was a joke, and he was not in the hotel at all.
‘[The next day when she] returned to her hotel after her course [Mr. Vikal] was waiting for her.’
The tribunal heard the pair then ordered pizza and remained in Ms Freke’s room for the rest of the evening.
However, the panel concluded that that was at his insistence rather than her express invitation.
The next month the tribunal heard Mr Vikal asked Ms Freke to click on a link on his laptop to the X-rated website Pornhub. When she refused he ‘airdropped’ the link to the clinic Reception computer.
In July he referred to her having ‘sexy legs’, the panel was told.
On multiple occasions in June and September 2022, he also touched her knee whenever she was in his office, and frequently touched the badge that she wore on her chest.
In September Ms Freke – who was in another relationship – sent him a Whatsapp message that read: ‘Rohit you asked me to be your girlfriend that’s pretty straightforward and after the multiple conversations we have had previously I cannot believe we are back here again.’
Later that month she went off sick with stress, complaining of harassment, and resigned in December.
Ms. Freke told the tribunal that Mr. Vikal’s behaviour had made her feel ‘lost, sick, frightened’ and had led her to seek help and counselling.
‘She said [he] had breached boundaries and created an intimidating and hostile environment,’ the tribunal heard.
‘His inappropriate behaviour was not one incident but gradually progressed over a series of months, which affected her mentally and physiologically.
‘She now realised she had been manipulated and groomed over a number of months and has had to have a great deal of counselling’.
Mr Vikal’s claims that Ms Freke was confusing his conversations with her about becoming a business partner as being conversations about his wanting her to become his girlfriend was dismissed by the tribunal.
Employment Judge Wendy Anderson said: ‘[Ms Freke] is clearly able to distinguish between the two and was aware throughout her employment that a future business partnership was a possibility, and that this was a matter distinct from a romantic relationship with [Mr Vikal],’ it said.
Ms Freke was awarded £1,522.05 after Mr Vikal made unlawful deductions from her wages. The sex harassment compensation will be decided at a later date.