What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 12 – 18 February 2018

No Unfair Dismissal for Employee who Distributed Pornographic Material
The Fair Work Commission has ruled that a wharf worker who sent a pornographic video to female colleagues was not unfairly dismissed (in the case of Luke Colwell v Sydney International Container Terminals [2018] FWC 174). Hutchison Ports Sydney fired Luke Colwell in August 2017 for “serious and wilful misconduct” when he drunkenly forwarded the video to 19 friends, including three female colleagues. One of the recipients was the Sydney branch secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, who arranged with the company to have Mr Colwell go on three months leave without pay. However, upon discovering the video, Human Resources manager, Harriet Mihalopoulos, considered that there was an attempted cover up of sexual harassment and proceeded to write to the female recipients. She said that, “As your employer we… must investigate any information that is brought to our attention”. Mr Colwell claimed he did not “connect the idea of sexual harassment with my Facebook post”. He argued that this was a case of unfair dismissal because he had sent the video after work hours, between friends, and moreover, no official complaint was made. In her ruling, Donna McKenna, the Fair Work Commissioner, said that the “material had the likely effect of presenting spillage or potential spillage into the workplace – where the employees would then work cheek-by-jowl together”. In her view, he could not be reinstated because Ms Mihalopoulos had lost trust and confidence in him.

Researcher Claims to be the Victim of Homophobia as she Seeks Parental Leave
A researcher from the Australian National University says she has faced homophobia and sexism in her fight for parental leave. Dr Sophie Lewis claims that her application for maternity leave was denied because she was not the birth mother of her child, despite she and her wife agreeing that she would be the primary caregiver. The Australian Research Council, the funding body that declined to approve her leave, said it was not in a position to comment because it awarded funding to universities and not individual researchers. While refusing to comment on her specific case, the Australian National University merely stated that they had “recently announced the early implementation of improved parental leave entitlements for staff at ANU under the Australian National University Enterprise Agreement 2017-21”. While the Australian LGBTI University Guide acknowledged the university’s strong policies protecting staff from discrimination based on their sexual preferences, the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby said it did not know whether there was mandatory training in place to ensure their enforcement.

Queensland Parliamentarian Upsets Antiquated Ban on Breastfeeding
A Queensland parliamentarian has prompted calls to review the rules prohibiting members from breastfeeding during parliament. The member for Keppel, Brittany Lauga, became the first woman to breach the state parliament’s rules when she breastfed her baby. According to standing orders, her baby was not a member of parliament, was therefore deemed a stranger and should have been withdrawn immediately. Ms Lauga said she “did what was necessary… Every workplace, including our parliaments, should (in accordance with the law) allow for women to breastfeed their babies”. Speaker Curtis Pitt agreed, saying that he would raise the issue at the Committee of the Legislative Assembly. The standing orders could themselves contravene federal anti-discrimination laws, which permit women to breastfeed in public life.