What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 13 July 2020 – 19 July 2020

Victoria Decides to Review Lawyers Conduct in Relation to Sexual Harassment

Victorian Chief Justice Anne Ferguson has initiated a review into the culture at Victorian law firms and courts. The review, which aims to address issues of sexual harassment across the profession, is set to be led by former commissioner of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Dr Helen Szoke AO. By examining measures that prevent sexual harassment, the review will seek to ‘identify ways to build a culture that is comfortable calling out sexual harassment and to do so without fear of repercussions.’ The review will be undertaken in close consultation with various stakeholders, including the Judicial Commission of Victoria, Legal Aid, Victorian Bar, Prosecutions and the Law Institute of Victoria. The review has been welcomed with praise across the board. President of Victorian Bar Wendy Harris QC and LIV president Sam Pandya have expressed their support and confidence for the review. ‘It is very clear from evidence across the legal profession that we need to take steps to strengthen the culture and change practices within the profession so that sexual harassment is called out and that all organisations and institutions have robust measures in place to prevent harassment and support those who are victims of, or witnesses to sexual harassment, to speak out,’ Ms Harris said.

Lawyer Ordered to Pay $360,000 for Bullying Neighbour

The NSW Supreme Court recently decided against a lawyer in a bullying dispute. The dispute arose after Lawyer Vanessa Hutley told her next-door neighbour that she would use her legal knowledge to ‘roast him’ in reference to a long-running dispute. Prior to the hearing in the NSW Supreme Court, the drawn-out dispute involved multiple court cases and applications for Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs). The neighbours then launched proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court after Ms Hutley approached ‘A Current Affair’ (ACA) to publish the story. In the hearing, Justice Stephen Rothman remarked that ‘[t]his is a petty, neighbourhood squabble essentially caused by the arrogance and the feeling of superiority of the defendant which does not amount to any matter relating to public interest.’ While the neighbours took part responsibility, Justice Rothman found the chief antagonist was Ms Hutley. Justice Rothman said any retaliation from the neighbour was merely ‘reactionary.’ ‘After the publication and broadcast the reputation of the [neighbour] suffered dramatically. He was shunned. It hurt his feelings and it caused him embarrassment and avoidance of more public events. His level of hurt and upset is a subject of evidence beyond that to which [the neighbour] himself attests,’ Justice Rothman wrote in the judgement. Justice Rothman also noted that Ms Hutley ‘agitated for the broadcast’ to the point where she threatened to take the story to another station if ACA was not interested, which ‘discloses malice and shows the motive of the defendant.’ Justice Rothman ordered Ms Hutley to pay her neighbour $300,000 and another $60,000 in interest for bullying and defamation.

Research Related to the Work Impact of Women’s Menstruation

According to a recent survey conducted by Western Sydney University (WSU), eighty per cent of female employees who menstruate reported that their symptoms impacted their ability to work at least once in the past three months. Mike Armour, the senior research fellow at WSU who led the survey, interviewed almost 2,000 people. Dr Armour said the data suggests most people ‘push through’ and continue to work rather than take sick days, even when they are in significant pain. Dr Armour says talking about periods in the workplace is the first step to breaking down menstrual stigma. ‘Pain is pain, and those in pain should have support,’ he said. ‘Given the severity of the pain for most women — often around a six out of 10 — expecting people to continue completely unaffected seems unreasonable,’ he added. In Australia, ‘period leave’ isn’t available and experts warn that this harms female employees. Lara Owen, a researcher at Monash Business School, said that ideally, people who menstruate should have more flexibility in the workplace. She said that people need to advocate for the ability to work from home, flexible working hours, a quiet room at work, heat packs at work and the option to be taken off front-facing roles when needed. Ms Owen’s research suggests that flexible working arrangements are more effective than a blanket period leave. Ms Owen’s research also found that transparent conversations around menstrual needs and experiences boost women’s self-esteem and confidence. ‘Sharing information about menstrual cycles, and planning work rotas accordingly, increased the sense of solidarity within work groups,’ she said.