What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 15 May 2023 – 21 May 2023

Former FIFO Worker Found Guilty of Raping Colleague at BHP Mine Site

Fly-in fly-out (FIFO) worker Ryan Zabaznow was found guilty this week of raping a co-worker at a regional mine site in Western Australia. The case was highly publicised amongst several allegations of sexual harassment in the mining sector. Zabaznow was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in her donga at the Mulla Mulla village of the BHP South Flank iron ore mine. According to the article, the sexual assault occurred in November of 2020 after a night of drinking and socialising with friends. The Court was informed that a friend of the victim had placed the woman in her bed “after she passed out and was ‘comatose’ from drinking.” The victim recounted how she awoke to Zabaznow positioned above her, informing the court that she was unable to move due to feeling like she had a “cement slab” on top of her. Zabaznow had alleged that the act was consensual and that there was no indication by the woman that the act was unwanted. The jury retired for approximately 4 hours prior to returning a guilty verdict. According to the article, the case had prompted an inquiry into the sexual harassment and assault within the WA FIFO sector. Additionally, BHP had dismissed Zabaznow after it had completed an investigation into the claim, stating that “sexual violence is completely unacceptable and has no place in our communities or in our workplaces.” Zabaznow was placed into custody and is due to be sentenced in August of this year.

Police Investigate Alleged Sexual Assault at Roy Hill Mine Site

The WA Police have commenced an investigation into an alleged sexual assault incident at the Roy Hill mine site in Newman. The alleged assault reportedly took place on Friday at the Mine Village. A spokesperson for Roy Hill (a subsidiary of Hancock Prospecting) announced that the company was working with the victim and that they were “provided with immediate support.” Further, the spokesperson stated that the alleged sexual assault took place between two contractors who had “agreed to meet up earlier.” The spokesperson stated that Roy Hill was “providing full co-operation to the police and the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety in their investigations and request privacy for the individuals concerned.” The names of the contractors have not been released and Roy Hill declined to comment any further. The incident occurs in light of the recent verdict in the sexual assault case of Ryan Zabaznow, who was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman after a night out drinking at BHP’s Mulla Mulla mine site. According to the article, the recent verdict has initiated a “tidal wave” of women coming forward with similar claims.

South Australian Lawyer Discrimination Case Dismissed by NSW Tribunal

The administrative and equal opportunity division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal dismissed a claim by South Australian solicitor Dawn Anters, who had claimed that he was not hired based on his gender and marital status. Anters filed a claim with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and sought $5,000 in compensation as well as a “letter of apology for ‘humiliation’, ‘insult’ and ‘injury to feelings.’ Further, Anters sought that the two females who interviewed him be ordered to handwrite ‘I like MEN’ and sent to him 10 times. According to the article, Anters had applied for the position at the boutique law firm D G Thompson (DGT) in February of 2022 and interviewed via Zoom. Anters claimed that he was discriminated against due to the nature of the questions he was asked, as well as the fact that all the solicitors at the firm were female. Further, Anters claimed that the firm only interviewed him because “the name Dawn was an atypical male name.” Additionally, Anters claimed that the two individuals who interviewed him were “very attractive and beautiful”, stating that “the magnitude of the offence and humiliation caused by the discrimination of someone to whom I am attracted to is far severe.” Senior member Larissa Andelman and general member Dr Maree Murray disagreed with the claims by Mr Antler, finding that a number were “entirely subjective.” Ultimately, the tribunal found that there was “no evidence that DGT treated him less favourably on the ground of his sex” and dismissed his claim.

Rugg v Ryan Case Missed Opportunity for Defining “Reasonable” Work Hours

Last week, it was announced that former staffer Sally Rugg had agreed to a settlement in relation to her workplace case against independent MP Monique Ryan. The case involved a dispute over the definition of “unreasonable” work hours under the Fair Work Act. Rugg reportedly accepted a $100,000 pay-out to settle the dispute. Lawyers have described how the case would have been a “game changer” in establishing the definition of “reasonable” work hours under the Fair Work Act. Workplace relations lawyers described that the case would have determined whether a 70-hour working week was lawful according to the Act/ Karena Nicholls, partner at Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers described that the key issue to look at is the “patterns and the nature of the role and responsibility.” She continues to describe that certain roles require greater hours to comply with deadlines established by courts, agencies and tribunals. Ashley Borg, special counsel at Adero Law, stated that “while Ms Rugg settling her claim with Dr Ryan and the Commonwealth has avoided litigation costs, we have missed out on an opportunity for the Federal Court to put employers on notice.”

ABC Regional Broadcaster Nicole Chvastek Lodges Bullying Claim with FWC

ABC radio presenter Nicole Chvastek has been taken off air in recent weeks in light of her recent submission to the FWC alleging workplace bullying. Chvastek, who hosts the Breakfast program on ABC Melbourne, has lodged the complaint against a senior staff member in relation to a claim of bullying behaviour. According to the article, the ABC has commenced an investigation into the matter. While the nature of the alleged bullying has not been described, sources claim that it involves a long-standing pattern of mistreatment as well as an unhealthy work environment. Chvastek’s claim has reportedly commenced conversations about workplace culture within the ABC and the media industry as a whole. The investigation will examine the actions and response of the ABC in addressing the bullying claim, as well as the measures implemented to prevent similar alleged incidents from occurring in the future.

Defence Lawyer States Bruce Lehrmann Convicted by Media Prior to Trial

Bruce Lehrmann’s defence lawyer stated this week that his client was convicted by the media prior to the commencement of the rape trial. Lehrmann’s defence lawyer Steven Whybrow took to this stand this week in the independent inquiry into the handling of Bruce Lehrmann’s trial. Lehrmann had plead not guilty in the Supreme Court trial that took place last year but was later abandoned due to juror misconduct. Prosecutors dropped the charges against Lehrmann for fears of Ms Higgin’s deteriorated mental health. Whybrow stated this week that Lehrmann was “convicted in the media” prior to the commencement of his trial, highlighting that Ms Higgin’s had been escorted to court by ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates. Whybrow stated that the decision created “a very difficult situation” for his client. Further, Whybrow stated to the inquiry that he had been “pissed off” in relation to suggestions that his cross-examination had been “coached” by Linda Reynolds, a former coalition minister. This allegation was made by prosecutor Shane Drumgold in a letter that reportedly stated Reynolds had “engaged in direct coaching of the defence cross-examination of the complainant.” According to the article, Whybrow had confronted Ms Reynolds as to why her husband had been sitting in the court-room in relation to the proceedings.

Pauline Hanson Appeals $250,000 Defamation Pay-out to Former Colleague

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has appealed a decision by the court in relation to defamation proceedings. Hanson was ordered by the court to pay $250,000 to her former colleague Brian Burston. A judge in the defamation appeal hearing stated that he has “great difficulty” in viewing how Burston “could not have sexually abused his young staff.” Hanson was ordered by the court to pay Burston $250,000 after a finding that she had defamed him last year by making “seriously damaging” comments on Nine’s Today Show. Hanson claimed in the interview that Burston had “assaulted the party’s chief of staff James Ashby without provocation at Parliament House.” Hanson is attempting to appeal the decision through a truth defence, with her barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC stating that the confirmed incident of sexual harassment on the junior staff member constituted sexual abuse, despite not including molestation. The former staffer stated to the Court last year that Burston was “infatuated with her, consistently sexually harassing her, forcefully kissing her multiple times and making inappropriate comments.” The judgment is set to be handed down at a later date.

Alex Greenwich Sues Mark Latham for Defamation Over Posted Tweet

Alex Greenwich is set to file defamation proceedings against Mark Latham next week in relation to a homophobic post and remarks that implied he was a danger to children. Greenwich is reportedly to commence defamation proceedings against Latham after threatening to sue him over a tweet posted in March. According to the article, Greenwich will seek aggravated damages that he had experienced “ridicule, hatred and contempt.” While the original tweet was deleted by Latham, he upheld what he had posted in a later media interview. An apology was not issued by Wednesday this week, reportedly triggering legal proceedings in relation to the dispute. Greenwich’s lawyer, Nicholas Stewart, stated that Greenwich had suffered damage of “very dangerous words” and had been “constantly attacked” by individuals. According to the article, Latham posted on Wednesday this week to Facebook that “Greenwich misused his carriage serviced in his attacks on me, saying that I had deliberately incited violence. In truth, I consistently condemned the violence.”

Banksia Hill Detention Centre Faces Claims of Sexually Inappropriate Conduct

Accusations that youth custodial officers had acted inappropriately towards detainees at the Banksia Hill detention centre were tabled in Parliament this week by Greens MP Brad Pettitt. The allegations included claims that officers had “hit a girl in the head with chairs” and “told boys at Unit 18 they would be raped if they went next door to the adult prison.” According to the article, the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) had sent 57 complaint letters to the Department of Justice between February 2022 and April of this year. One of the accusations involved a female detainee who had been “coded” after she was mistakenly believed to have been inscribing on property and who was assaulted after she had picked up a chair. She further alleged that an officer “touched her on the buttocks with his hands as she was on the ground handcuffed” and that she was unable to breathe when she was in this position. Other allegations include being left in “excruciating pain” after being placed into headlock by an officer following a name-calling incident. The Department of Justice stated that ALS had received correspondence after submitting each complaint, noting that the last meeting took place on 4 April of this year.