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Two women suing former Georgian Public Registry head for sexual harassment

30 March 2018
Papuna Ugrekhelidze (/ipress.ge)

Two former employees are suing the former chair of Georgia’s Public Registry for sexaul harassment. Papuna Ugrekhelidze resigned on Tuesday after media reports citing similar claims of harassment from another former employee, Eka Meskhidze.

In a recent report by the Coalition for Equality, a coalition of rights groups, complaints from two women who were fired from the registry last April in ‘structural changes’ were documented. In the report, the two women said they were frequently harassed and prevented from doing their jobs.

‘The case documents private conversations where sexual harassment can be seen. The head of the Public Registry would call the accusers offensive nicknames. The head of the Public Registry would tell others that the accusers were his “squirrels”, that he had sex with them, and that he could fire them anytime as he had hired them’, the report says.

The case was prepared by the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, a local right’s group, who also documented witnesses testimonies. The women are asking the court to award them compensation for material damages.

Resignation after allegations

Allegations against Ugrekhelidze were first reported after Eka Meskhidze, who initially chose not to disclose her name but was later outed by Ugrekhelidze, said she was forced to quit her job at the Public Registry in 2016 in order to avoid him. Ugrekhelidze reportedly began harassing her that year, while she was working under him.

According to Ugrekhelidze, Meskhidze complained to the Public Defender a week after her husband was fired.

‘Meskhidze was blackmailing me for firing her husband, and there is a witness, with the help of whom she asked me not to fire her husband Zurab Kipshidze, otherwise she would take a complaint to the Public Defender’, Ugrekhelidze wrote, vowing to sue her.

Meskhidze has called Ugrekhelidze’s claims ‘absurd’.

The Public Defender’s Office has confirmed Meskhidze’s story, but their report into the case from last May remains confidential. Liberali, who have seen the report, wrote that Ugrekhelidze also called her ‘a squirrel’, sent her heart emojis, and demanded the same from her.

Citing the report, Liberali says he became threatening: ‘Don’t make trouble and do as I say, you haven’t gotten into shit for this long, and you won’t get into shit now either, you must understand my attitude. You’re a big girl, and you should not overstep your boundaries! I will lay a hand on you, and when you are really beaten, then you will understand. You monkey!’

[Read more about allegations against the Head of the Public Registry on OC Media: Head of Georgian Public Registry resigns over sexual harassment allegations]

On Friday, Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani accused Meskhidze of lying about her. Meskhidze had claimed Tsulukiani knew of the allegations. ‘When a so called victim tells such a lie, this fight can not succeed’, Tsulukiani told journalists, and denied having said that ‘just verbal abuse’ was OK.

She also said that Ugrekhelidze had showed her an ‘expert assessment’ which concluded that abusive messages he is accused of sending to Meskhidze were from an ‘address that did not belong to him’.

The minister said that it was now up to courts to make a decision and told Meskhidze to ‘never tell a lie again because it’s harmful for women in this battle’.