A PERTH council worker sacked for bombarding young female colleagues with “salacious” messages, including in one case a photo of his “erect penis”, has argued the women should have simply told him to stop if they didn’t like it.
Building surveyor Colin Reguero-Puente filed an application for unfair dismissal after being sacked by the City of Rockingham in December, following an investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct made by a number of employees.
The Fair Work Commission heard that the 45-year-old frequently sent unwelcome and unsolicited sexually explicit emails and text messages to female colleagues, often late at night and into the early morning, and made inappropriate comments at work.
“I’ve always wanted to play … you just didn’t know it … being your ‘boss’ and all,” he texted to a 23-year-old colleague after sending her an unsolicited photo of his penis and repeatedly requesting she send him a naked photo of herself.
“Don’t worry, I checked the EBA. Not on the clock so doesn’t matter,” Mr Reguero-Puente texted during the same exchange. The woman wrote back, “Don’t get yourself in trouble, or me.”
The woman admitted to the council’s investigator that she began to exchange “flirty” texts with Mr Reguero-Puente and that she eventually relented and sent a naked photo, but immediately regretted it.
Two days later, he texted her saying, “I re-read the messages and thought — ooops are we good? … Prob over stepped the mark. But I must admit I enjoyed it.” The woman responded, “Haha!! Just little … maybe …”
She told the investigator she felt “pressured and harassed” to send a naked photo for a number of reasons, including that she had seen how he treated other staff who did not engage with him, her relative inexperience and his seniority to herself.
A letter containing the allegations against Mr Reguero-Puente tendered by the City of Rockingham outlined a number of similar incidents.
According to the letter, he made comments to one female co-worker including, “I’ll let you go up the stairs first so I can watch your arse”, “You look hot. Did I just say that out loud”, “I would like to see you in those heels only”, “Your arse looks good, but I can’t say that as I have done my sexual harassment course so I can’t” and “Can you leave your underwear, a bra or something, in my car next time”.
He also made comments about the woman being “kinky”, discussed “not liking pubic hair on women and asking her thoughts on the matter”, asked “whether she was loud in the bedroom” and asked her to pose for a photo in her work uniform “for home”, according to the letter.
In text messages to the woman, he talked about waiting for her to “come back so I could get a goodbye kiss”, and suggested that she “could try E” — a reference to the woman making money as an escort worker.
“And no one can know about these messages — no matter what,” he texted. “I am kidding with the sexual overtones so I will cut back … It’s just my banter.”
In separate text messages, he asked a 31-year-old female colleague if she had “the just been f**ked look”, asked her if she was getting dressed up or going for the “just f**ked look”, and asked her to send a photograph of herself once she was “all dolled up”.
In another incident, he sent a 26-year-old colleague a late-night text saying, “I like your tongue being the centre piece.” A minute later he wrote, “It’s alright. I checked the EBA. It’s off the clock so no harassment suits,” accompanied by a ‘kiss blowing’ emoji.
The woman said she initially responded but soon stopped when the content and timing of the messages became inappropriate.
Several hours later, after the woman did not reply to a series of messages, Mr Reguero-Puente wrote, “Please don’t tell anyone I messaged you. I have already had a talking too [sic]. I was genuinely concerned for you. My deepest and sincere honest apologies. I promise it will not happen again. I will delete your number.”
Mr Reguero-Puente maintained the messages were “welcomed and reciprocated”.
Fair Work Commission deputy president Melanie Binet said the “key pillar” of Mr Reguero-Puente’s defence was “not that he did not do what he is alleged to have done, but rather that the women should have told him to stop”.
“Some of the women gave evidence that they did in fact do so and it made no difference,” she said.
“Others clearly tried to curtail conversations that Mr Reguero-Puente was trying to lead in an inappropriate direction. Others admittedly participated. All say that to the extent that they did respond, they felt they had little choice given Mr Reguero-Puente’s seniority and his behaviour in the workplace.”
Ms Binet said “with all due respect to Mr Reguero-Puente” it was “difficult to comprehend that he could have reasonably believed that all of these much younger women seriously welcomed his advances”.
“In this day and age young women should not have to tell their older superiors that they do not want to be sent salacious texts during or after working hours, nor have comments of a sexual nature made about them, or be directed toward them in their workplace,” she said.
“This is not a case of an office romance between consenting adults. This is not a case of a man being led astray by a siren-like younger woman.
“Mr Reguero-Puente’s own evidence reveals a pattern of him befriending much younger female subordinates and then progressively sending more frequent and increasingly less appropriate messages.”
Ms Binet said “to this day” he “continues to assert that his conduct ought to be excused because it was consensual”.
“Despite the opportunity to review his text message exchanges in preparation for the hearing, he still appears to fail to recognise the inappropriateness of the frequency, timing and content of his messages to multiple, less senior, female colleagues,” she said.
“His position appears to be that he is entitled to say and do what he pleases unless his female colleagues tell him emphatically in writing to stop.
“There is nothing to suggest that Mr Reguero-Puente would not continue the same pattern of behaviour leading to further young women being subjected to his inappropriate overtures if he were to return to the workplace.”
Ms Binet rejected the application, saying she was satisfied his dismissal was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable. “Accordingly, I find Mr Reguero-Puente’s dismissal was not unfair,” she said.
City of Rockingham acting chief executive Bob Jeans said in a statement, “The City has a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying in the workplace and determined, following an extensive investigation, that it had no option but to dismiss the employee in question. The City is pleased that its decision to do so has been vindicated by the Fair Work Commission.”
Mr Reguero-Puente has been contacted for comment.