What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 2 – 8 August

Brittany Higgins Alleged Attacker to Face Court

The ACT Police have served a summons on a 26 year-old man accused of allegedly sexually assaulting former government staffer, Brittany Higgins. The man will face one charge of sexual intercourse without consent at Parliament House on March 23 2019. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 12 years imprisonment. Ms Higgins’ allegations have sparked several reviews into the workplace culture of Parliament House. In a May Senate Hearing, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw revealed there had been 19 reports of misconduct involving parliamentarians and their staff since Ms Higgins came forward with her allegations. This will be reviewed by the new independent complaints team in new reforms established in parliament.

Australia Post to Pay Christine Holgate $1m

Australia Post has paid former chief executive Christine Holgate $1m in settlement costs after she was forced to stand down last year following revelations she purchased four Cartier watches for company executives. The purchase was revealed in Senate Estimates in October. In April this year, Ms Holgate fronted a Senate committee again to detail the bullying and humiliation she was subjected to by Australia Post and Scott Morrison. Ms Holgate said in the wake of the incident, she experienced suicidal thoughts. She called for the company’s chairman, Lucio Di Bartolomeo to be fired for allegedly fabricating claims she had agreed to stand down when he had bullied her out of the job. Mr Di Bartolomeo rejected the allegations and said Ms Holgate agreed to step down of her own accord. This week, Australia Post released a statement announcing the termination costs it would pay Ms Holgate. They said “Australia Post regrets the difficult circumstances surrounding Ms Holgate’s departure from her role as CEO”, though they stopped short of providing a formal apology. On top of the termination costs, Australia Post will cover Ms Holgate’s legal costs of $100 000.

Law Society of New South Wales Launches Online Sexual Harassment Awareness Platform

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has launched an online portal to tackle and respond to harassment, discrimination and victimisation in the legal workplace. It comes after two separate sets of sexual harassment against Australian judges. The platform provides lawyers with information on the processes to undertake to report incidents or behaviour. Resources embedded in the platform shed light on sexual harassment in the legal profession and the training provided by the Law Society to combat it. The portal also stores guides published by the Law Society on identifying and eliminating discriminatory practices and providing legislation and rules relevant to sexual harassment in the legal professions. The society’s mental health and wellbeing portal is included within the portal. Alongside this initiative, the Law Society is launching a series of workshops through its continuing professional development programme to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace and improve workplace culture, including identifying inappropriate conduct, the responsibilities of bystanders and how to report and manage complaints.

Australian Federal Police Settle Sexual Harassment Claim For $1.25m

The Federal Court has ruled in favour of a former Australian Federal Police Officer who was allegedly sexually harassed by her supervisor. The woman alleged that the sergeant rubbed himself against her, made repeated comments about her breasts and professionally undermined her in harassment so severe it destroyed her happiness, relationship and career. The woman initially made a worker’s compensation claim in 2014 over allegations dating back to the year before, resulting in payments of $677 363. In 2018, she made an additional claim to the Human Rights Commission against the AFP and four officers. She claimed the three officers discriminated against her by mocking and socially isolating her. She tried to transfer out but was blocked several times before being moved in early 2014. The AFP settled in September last year for $1.25 million without admitting liability. Comcare, which manages workers compensation claims against the government, took the claim to court arguing the legislation allowed it to claim back payments already given to the woman based on the prohibition against double dipping. However, Justice Steven Rares found the settlement encompassed a broader range of claims than the initial compensation claimed, which was “inscrutable as to how it was calculated.” This meant the woman could not be forced to repay any portion. Justice Rares did not make findings about whether the claims are true or not but noted her testimony about how she had been hurt. Medical evidence said the woman was “extremely traumatised” and “continued to suffer from severe depression, anxiety, panic, traumatic stress and dependence on alcohol.” It was so severe that it was likely she will never be able to work again in jobs she was qualified for and her partner left her.

Bullying Claims at Sydney University Regiment Referred to Defence Force Inspector General

Allegations of bullying and harassment at the Australian army’s Sydney University regiment have been referred to the inspector general of the defence force for potential investigation. Defence Minister Peter Dutton has also revealed that military police may play a role investigating several incidents. He says that whistleblowers will be heard and supported. The Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force was informed of the allegations after the Guardian Australia revealed the army had launched its own investigation into alleged bullying and harassment of officer cadets at the regiment. Dutton said the army had on 18 June referred the unacceptable behaviour issues to the IGDAF. He added that the IDGAF will determine if a broader inquiry is appropriate.

Full Federal Court Overturns TechnologyOne Workplace Bullying Judgement

The Federal Court has overturned a judgement against TechnologyOne over its handling of a dismissed employee who made multiple bullying complaints. The original judgement concerned an employee of TechnologyOne, Behnam Roohizadegan, who was dismissed on 18 May 2017. Roohizadegan made a range of complaints to his employer and was described in the original judgement by Justice Kerr as a “serial complainer from the moment of his appointment in respect of his remuneration and entitlements.” The employee made several complaints against senior employees, including allegations of bullying, being sked not to attend a meeting with a client that he believed he should attend, decisions that were made behind his back and that he was allegedly sworn at during discussions. However, Roohizadegan himself was the subject of a number of bullying complaints too. It was found that no investigation into the complaints against Roohizadegan took place before he was let go. Post-dismissal, Roohizadegan had a mental break down. TechnologyOne was not aware of his pre-existing mental illness, which was unrelated to his work, but resulted in him being incapable of working again. At first instance, Justice Kerr ruled that TechnnologyOne did not discharge its presumption onus that Roohizadegan’s dismissal was done because he complained on seven occasions. Given the evidence of the Roohizadegan’s mental health, they received a $5.2 million penalty for adverse action.

However, the Full Federal Court ruled this week that the judgement should be dismissed and the matter sent to retrial because the primary judge failed to provide adequate reasons for the conclusion that Roohizadegan was dismissed for a prohibited reason under the Fair Work Act. In a joint judgement, Justices Rangiah, White and O’Callaghan said “we cannot possibly arrive at a final result without full and clear factual findings, including as to credit, by a trial court.” TechnologyOne stood by its dismissal of Roohizadegan, stating “this was a senior executive earning close to $1 million per year who no longer had the confidence of the board and his fellow executives and against whom serious allegations had been raised by staff.”

FWC Issues Stop Bullying Order: Qu v Monards [2021] FWC 4507

The FWC has issued a stop bullying order against Monards, a high-end jewellery and watch store in Surfer’s Paradise. The applicant had worked at Monards Surfers Paradise as a Supervisor since February 2018. She reported to Mr Wong, the team leader since his employment in March 2020. The applicant had emailed her employer 4 times between 9 November 2020 and 16 May 2021 complaining about alleged bullying by Mr Wong. Mr Wong raised a jurisdictional objection that any action taken by him was reasonable management action take in a reasonable manner. The Commission determined that on numerous occasions Mr Wong had repeatedly behaved unreasonably towards the applicant. This included suggesting the applicant should work for a competitor; using a message app rather than a verbal request to communicate with the applicant on shop floor; sending a photo of an untidy counter to a group chat and telling the applicant to tidy it; issuing unwarranted warnings and a performance improvement plan; telling the applicant “shut up, you are not allowed to say a word in front of me”; and failing to respond to the applicant’s greetings. The Commission was satisfied that Mr Wong’s behaviour created a risk to the applicant’s health and safety and that it was not reasonable management action. Further, they considered that the applicant would be at risk of continued bullying at work by Mr Wong if the order was not made. They therefore ordered that Mr Wong stop bullying the applicant.