By Umberto Bacchi
TBILISI, May 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Georgian weightlifter sued her coach and the country's weightlifting federation over sexual harassment on Wednesday in a rare move that women's rights activists said they hoped would encourage others to speak out.
Tatia Lortkipanidze accused her coach in a civil lawsuit of unwanted sexual advances and said the federation failed to take action, causing her to miss out on an important championship earlier this year.
A spokesman for the sporting body denied the accusations.
Speaking to local media, the coach, Temur Janjghava, dismissed the allegations as lies, saying he had always acted in a professional manner. The Thomson Reuters Foundation could not immediately reach Janjghava to seek further comment.
The dispute is only the second of its kind to reach court in the former Soviet republic, where sex is a largely taboo subject and women taking on abuse often face stigma and retribution.
"Nobody dares to sue on sexual harassment," said Baia Pataraia, the head of women's rights group Sapari, which is assisting Lortkipanidze.
"Many women remain silent as they are afraid they will lose their job or it will be an impediment to their career," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A 2017 United Nations survey found one in five Georgian women experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime.
Earlier this month the country's parliament passed its first legislation explicitly outlawing sexual harassment as a form of discrimination punishable with a fine of up to 300 GEL ($110).
The law came on the back of local campaigns inspired by the #MeToo movement that - sparked by dozens of accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017 - has heightened global attention around sexual harassment in the workplace.
It allows for victims to seek compensation in court, but does not apply in Lortkipanidze's case because of the timing of the alleged harassment.
The athlete said coach Janjghava had made unwanted sexual overtures to her ahead of the 2019 European Weightlifting Championship in the Black Sea resort of Batumi in April.
She said she reported the incident to the head of the weightlifting federation, but was not taken seriously, and was later excluded from the contest after refusing to train under Janjghava.
Lortkipanidze said the exclusion had hampered her chances to take part in the world championships in September, and is seeking compensation of 25,500 GEL from the federation and 2,000 from Janjghava.
"I decided to go public hoping that women and girls who are in this sport would no longer face this kind of discrimination in the future," she said.
The head of the weightlifting federation, Kakhi Kakhiashvili, said it had investigated Lortkipanidze's allegations but found them to be groundless, local media reported.
Janjghava, the head coach of the women's team, had earlier said the 25-year-old was excluded from the team for breaking rules and failing to show up for training.
Tamar Dekanosidze, of advocacy group Equality Now, said bringing sexual harassment cases to court was key to show there was no safe place for abuse.
"Court decisions also help remove stigma from sexual harassment and encourage women to come forward and defend their rights," she said.
($1 = 2.7320 laris) (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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