Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Man called gym coach ‘f**king pervert’ and accused him of inappropriately touching his wife, WRC hears

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Gym operator Bettystown Leisure Ltd, trading as Integral Fitness and Leisure, told the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) yesterday its that former member Nedas Juknevicius is not welcome back because of his alleged conduct towards staff.

It has denied Mr Juknevicius’s claim under the Equal Status Act, in which he alleges he was victimised in connection with an equality matter when the club declined to renew his membership because he complained that his wife was sexually harassed.

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Its owner, businessman Brian Browning, said Mr Juknevicius had made “off-the-Richter scale” allegations of sexual harassment against one of its most senior employees but these turned out to be unfounded.

The gym’s position was that Mr Juknevicius later tried to treat the matter as a “little misunderstanding” – and that the patron looked for a free membership at one point.

The WRC was told the dispute arose when Mr Juknevicius came to the gym on March 28 last year and sought out fitness instructor Guy Bates, whom he accused of inappropriately touching his wife during a fitness class the evening before.

The allegation was denied at all stages by the trainer. Mr Juknevicius’s wife made no appearance at the hearing.

Mr Bates said in evidence that he pulled up CCTV footage from the class to show to Mr Juknevicius, but that the man refused to look at it and the matter “escalated”.

“[He] called me a f**king pervert on many occasions. As a father, as someone well established in the community from years of participating in sport, I’ve never experienced anything like that and my initial reaction was shock,” Mr Bates said.

“After he said it again, my reaction was, ‘If you call me that again I’ll’ – excuse my language – ‘f**king kill you’. Obviously it’s not the greatest response in the world, but it’s the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like that.”

He said his colleague Andrea Hanova “jumped in” and told Mr Juknevicius to be quiet but Mr Juknevicius “kept going on and on”.

Another colleague, Karolis Jukonis, then came upon the incident and asked the complainant to “calm down” and Mr Juknevicius went upstairs to a different part of the gym with Mr Jukonis, the WRC was told.

Mr Browning said the company investigation concluded there was “nothing of a sexual nature involved in the action” by Mr Bates and that he thought, following an “off-the-record” meeting with Mr Juknevicius, that the couple had accepted its findings.

He said the investigation found Mr Juknevicius’s wife had been in an exercise class “full of women” led by Mr Bates and was performing an exercise which required her to lie on her back with her legs straight up in the air, but she was having difficulty performing the action.

“[Mr Bates] straightened her legs and literally tapped on the bottom of her shoes as if to say – and there’s video evidence of this – ‘now you have it’. He did this on one or two other occasions during the class to other female members,”

Mr Browning said. He said a company investigation into the complaint found there was “nothing to answer here”.

He said that when he later spoke to Mr Juknevicius: “He seemed to suggest, when he was talking about legal action, that they agreed there’s nothing to see here so let’s move it on.”

However, he said that the complainant later suggested by email “that a membership could sort it out”.

Mr Browning said he believed the complainant was “off the Richter scale”.

Mr Jukvenicius said: “I don’t recall using the word ‘pervert’, but if I did, I apologise.

“My intention wasn’t to offend [Mr Bates], my only intention was to have him admit his behaviour was inappropriate and to apologise to my wife.”

Mr Juknevicius said Mr Bates’ response was: “I didn’t do anything wrong and I’m not going to apologise for anything.”

The complainant said that when he referred to making an official complaint, Mr Bates then “got angry”.

Asked by adjudicator Michael McNamee whether he wanted to cross-examine Mr Bates, the complainant said he had no questions for the gym worker.

However, while later questioning gym employee Andrea Hanova, one of the company’s witnesses, he said there was “very clear” CCTV footage showing that Mr Bates “tried to assault” him but had been stopped by Mr Jukonis.

The allegation was not put to Mr Bates directly for a response.

Mr McNamee asked Mr Jukonis whether Mr Bates attempted to physically assault the complainant.

Mr Jukonis said he had been standing in a doorway between the men at the time.

The witness said: “He stepped, but it was nothing as [the complainant] says [like] trying to go and slap him.”

Mr McNamee asked: “If you hadn’t been there, could it have come to blows?”

Mr Jukonis said: “I don’t know how it would go.”

The tribunal heard Mr Juknevicius’s gym membership lapsed last June while the investigation was still going.

When it was completed, the WRC heard, gym manager Noel Burke took the position that if the complainant wanted to renew his membership then he would have to apologise to Mr Bates.

The company’s position is that when the complainant went back to rejoin the gym the following September he was “pushy” and “intimidatory” towards a receptionist, Lorna Waters – allegations which were disputed by the complainant.

The gym manager, Mr Burke, said Mr Juknevicius was by that point taking the position that it was “all a misunderstanding”.

“I said this is a lot more than a little misunderstanding,” Mr Burke told the tribunal.

“With the defamation of character and the way he was with Lorna… you’re not welcome here, none of the staff want to see you,” he said of Mr Juknevicius.

After hearing final submissions, adjudicator Michael McNamee said he would write to the parties in eight or nine weeks with his decision.

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