What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 14 August 2023 – 19 August 2023

Qantas Pilot Ordered to Re-Write Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Claim

This week, a Qantas pilot was ordered by the Federal Court to re-write a part of her discrimination and sexual harassment statement of claim against the airline. Davida Forshaw is claiming that her former employer Qantas airlines discriminated against her based on her sex. In her claim, Ms Forshaw states that the Qantas workplace has a “sexist culture”. Justice Snaden rejected the argument from Qantas that Ms Forshaw’s claim be “tossed out.” However, he ordered that “several paragraphs of Ms Forshaw’s claim should be struck out.” The paragraphs that were ordered to be removed included claims that Qantas’ workplace was “hostile to women” and that “it had the result of injuring her employment with the airline and discriminating against her in comparison to male employees.” Further, Ms Forshaw claimed that she was “subjected to improper conduct, required to perform to a higher standing than male counterparts without being awarded better results and she suffered stress, anxiety and humiliation.” Justice Snaden stated that her allegations were indistinct, and hostility was open to “subjective interpretation.” He stated that “a workplace might exhibit or possess other characteristics that accumulate to a point that might colloquially constitute hostility; but what might those characteristics be?” Justice Snaden stated that Ms Forshaw should, and would, be afforded the opportunity to recast her pleading.
I find this decision interesting. The very language the complainant has used is the language of the new definition of hostile workplace environment which the Respect at Work Act 2022 (Cth) created in December 2022. Given this matter was brought through the Fair Work Legislation and pre-dates the new definition I can only assume that if it was to be brought now under the new legislation it would not have been struck out.

Ballarat Catholic School Accused of ‘Toxic’ Workplace Culture

The principal of St Patrick’s College, a prestigious Ballarat Catholic school, has written to the school community amid a recent investigation into a staff member’s behaviour and claims of a toxic workplace culture. Principal Steven O’Connor informed parents, carers and staff that the school “strongly rejects claims of workplace cultural issues.” Further, the letter stated that “we are proud of the continuous improvement in the gender equity of the staff, as reflected within the recent appointments of staff within the College’s positions of leadership.” Mr O’Connor has stated that approximately 46% of staff at the school are female, saying that “we embed and promote the concepts of gender equity and inclusion into our curriculum, and ensure that in every interaction, all members of the community demonstrate respect for women.” The Herald Sun has reported that there is an alleged “misogynist and anti-woman climate,” which led to the resignation of female staff from the all-boys college. A spokesperson for the organisation Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) confirmed this week that an investigation is being conducted at the school by the Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) due to allegations that a staff member did not follow appropriate procedures. According to the article, the alleged incident involved a physical fight between two students earlier this year, where the Deputy Principal allegedly did not report the incident immediately. The investigation will reportedly take two weeks to complete. The Deputy Principal has been stood down with pay.

Pauline Hanson Successfully Appeals Defamation Case Against Brian Burston

This week, Senator Hanson successfully appealed the verdict in the defamation case of Brian Burston. Mr Burston sued Ms Hanson due to an accusation of sexual harassment she made on social media, in a text message to his wife and on a 2019 Channel Nine television interview. Ms Hanson was ordered to pay Mr Burston $250,000 in damages after she had falsely accused him of sexually assaulting a female staffer in his office. The Court heard in the defamation trial that Mr Burston “sexually propositioned” co-worker Wendy Leach in 2018, stating that “you probably just need a good f**k” following a staff meeting. Justice Bromwich was “in no doubt Mr Burston sexually propositioned two staffers but ruled Senator Hanson did not have any proper basis for suspecting that Mr Burston’s conduct went so far as to constitute sexual abuse.” Further, in the Channel 9 interview, Ms Hanson stated that Mr Burston was involved in a physical altercation in Parliament House with the party’s strategist James Ashby. Justices Michael Wigney, Michael Wheelahan and Wendy Abraham threw out the findings of Justice Robert Bromwich, stating that it was “substantially true” that Mr Burston sexually abused a female staffer. Further, their judgment included that Senator Hanson had not been defamatory when she stated that Mr Ashby “never laid a hand on” Mr Burston. Mr Burston stated that he would seek leave to challenge the decision in the High Court “as a matter of public interest.” He stated that the interest was that the “case was heavily reliant on fabricated evidence and as such that evidence perverted the court of justice.”