What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 10 June 2019 – 16 June 2019

New Highest Award for Aggravated Damages for Sexual Harassment
Australia has a new highest amount awarded for aggravated damages for sexual harassment in the workplace (under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)). Recently, the Federal Circuit Court awarded (in the case of Hill v Hughes [2019] FCCA 1267) aggravated damages in a sexual harassment dispute, ordering a senior solicitor to pay $170,000, of which $50,000 was aggravated damages, to his employee. Aggravated damages can be awarded in addition to normal damages but requires the additional element of malevolence, or spite, or ill will, by the harasser. In awarding aggravated damages for sexual harassment, the court may also consider whether the harasser’s behaviour during the hearing contributed to the victim’s distress and anxiety. This case was mentioned in last week’s blog where the employer was a lawyer, in a position of power over the employee, where he made veiled threats related to her losing her job and he used unrelated information (he had gained in representing her in her family law case) to discredit her in the sexual harassment hearing.

NT Minister Makes Joke About “Bashing” Opposition Staffer
Eva Lawler, the Northern Territory’s Planning Minister, has been accused of ‘inciting violence’ within the Legislative Assembly. The accusation comes after Ms Lawler said ‘quick, grab her and bash her’ in relation to Opposition staffer, Sharon Mulholland. Following the comment, Ms Mulholland lodged a workplace compensation claim. Ms Lawler, who did not dispute that she made the comment, said it was intended as a joke, and that once ‘Ms Mulholland was offended I immediately and sincerely apologised’. The comment fell into the public arena on the first day of the Northern Territory Government’s Estimate Hearing. There, Speaker Kezia Purick spoke on allegations of bullying, and harassment within the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. Ms Purick detailed that ‘one political officer ha[d] complained about the behaviour of a Minister towards them’. Following uproar over the remark, Ms Lawler said that she ‘abhors violence’ and ‘at no stage did [she] intend to cause offence’. ‘This action is in direct contravention of the Ministerial Code of Conduct,’ she added in her statement. In response to the incident, Opposition Leader Gary Higgins said that ‘everyone … is entitled to come to work and feel safe’.

Film and Media Industry Developed Code of Practice
Screen Producers Australia (SPA) in partnership with the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) have recently developed and released the Australian Screen Industry Code of Practice: Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Bullying. The Code aims to enable employers with the film and media industry to have a consistent approach to bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace. In working toward that end, it is now a mandatory funding requirement that all production companies comply with the Screen Industry Code of Practice from 1st July 2019 onwards.