A creepy Coles manager who liked to stand “uncomfortably close” to young female staff members, touch them inappropriately and whisper “good evening” into their ears has been slammed for his “obsessive” behaviour.
Peter Angelakos, former duty manager at Coles Moranbah in Queensland, filed an application for unfair dismissal after being sacked in March last year over a slew of sexual harassment and workplace bullying allegations.
Two female employees aged 17 and 23 initially made complaints that the 52-year-old had acted inappropriately towards them. A further two school-age employees then came forward, followed by four more complainants.
The 17-year-old employee told the Fair Work Commission she was working at the register one Saturday when Mr Angelakos approached her, placed his hand on the small of her back and slowly whispered, “Good evening.”
He had “tested the waters” the previous day by touching the employee “inappropriately and unnecessarily on the small of her back for a period of approximately five seconds”, causing her to feel “extremely uncomfortable”, Fair Work documents state.
He was also accused of “often” standing “very close” to the employee, “approximately 10-15 centimetres”, and repeatedly touching her shoulder or arm when speaking to her.
The Commission heard that another 17-year-old worker said Mr Angelakos would “usually stand in very close physical proximity, within roughly 10-15 centimetres of her face”, and when she took a step back he “would usually take another step closer to her”.
The 23-year-old employee told the Commission at one point she tried taking a step backwards from Mr Angelakos when he approached, gesturing towards the space in front of him and saying, “We’ve all got personal space. I have my bubble. You have yours.”
The same employee said Mr Angelakos made unwelcome comments about her appearance, calling her tattoos and piercings “pretty”, offered her flowers, and repeatedly requested to become friends on Facebook.
She was later asked to put a complaint in writing after approaching the female store support manager, telling her, “I’m not doing it anymore. He’s harassing me. I don’t want to be near him.”
A third employee, aged in her mid-20s, alleged Mr Angelakos stood “within 10 centimetres” of her face, and stood behind her when she was stacking shelves. She alleged on one occasion he touched her on the shoulder then said, “Whoops, sorry, I’m not allowed to touch anyone past the elbow, please don’t tell anyone.”
The store support manager said she had a discussion Mr Angelakos in August 2017 about respecting employees’ personal space.
“I don’t like people touching me or standing too close to me,” she recalled telling him. “You really have to read people’s non-verbals. We’re in a management position. You have to understand what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate”.
She said his response was, “I already know I’m only allowed to touch them on the forearm.” She told the Commission the response made her feel “disturbed” and set off alarm bells.
Mr Angelakos denied the allegations and suggested his fellow manager had orchestrated a “conspiracy” of complaints against him. But Fair Work Commissioner Jennifer Hunt upheld the large majority, including all of the sexual harassment breaches.
“When the complaints are compiled, the sheer volume is concerning,” she said.
“Having regard to the numerous times Mr Angelakos said ‘good evening’ (to the 17-year-old) it is pestering and unnecessary to approach (her) again, while leaning towards her ear to say it again. I accept that it occurred, and consider it to be odd, obsessive conduct.”
She added it was “concerning that a 52-year-old man in a senior position in the store did not recognise the inappropriateness of repeatedly standing so close to a 17-year-old junior employee”.
“Noting that the ‘#MeToo’ movement commenced gaining traction in late 2017, it was brave and entirely appropriate for (her) to come forward with her allegations and allow them to be investigated,” Ms Hunt said.
She added Mr Angelakos’ “interest” in the 23-year-old employee’s attractiveness and ongoing interest in the third employee, “bordering on, in my view, an obsession, also was unacceptable”.
But Ms Hunt said she also accepted that he “probably considered that he was a fun and pleasant manager, and he genuinely considered that he had a good relationship with employees, including young employees”.
“It could be said that Mr Angelakos tried hard, perhaps too hard, to engage on a social level with some employees. I do not consider that it was always based on his feelings of attraction to some employees,” she said.
Ms Hunt rejected the application, finding there were “were are at least two serious matters that constitute a valid reason for the dismissal” and that the sacking was neither harsh, unjust nor unreasonable.
A spokeswoman for Coles declined to comment.
Continue the conversation firstname.lastname@example.org