What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 23 – 29 January 2017

Allegations That SA Front Bencher Bullied and Harassed Female Employee
David Speirs, a South Australian Liberal frontbencher has denied bullying and harassing a former female staffer. The allegations arose after an article was published in the Advertiser this week. The article claimed that Mr Speirs’ had bullied and harassed his former officer manager, Helen Dwyer. It was suggested that this resulted in a legal case and subsequent settlement (Department of Treasury and Finance v Helen Dwyer). This cannot be verified as the matter in question is subject to a strict confidentiality clause. The matter was resolved by way of agreement between the parties in 2016. Mr Speirs stated “the allegations regarding my conduct that were raised by The Advertiser this morning are completely false.”

Racial Comments Constituted Discrimination Based on Race
The Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission had found an employer liable for racially derogatory comments that were made to an employee by her colleagues. Ms Newchurch was employed as a technical support and administrative officer at Centreprise. Ms Newchurch alleged that Mr Ride, the General Manager of Centreprise, made a series of racially derogatory comments. These comments included:
a) statements that Aboriginal people “rely too much on welfare and Government handouts”;
b) comments that “distinguished between ‘Indigenous’ people who are westernised or urban, and ‘Aboriginal’ people who are traditional people out bush”; and
c) stating that “back in the day an Aboriginal person would never think of stealing from an employer but these days they are used to lying and cheating the system to get money without wanting to work an honest day in their life.”

The NTADC held that Mr Ride’s comments made distinctions on the basis of race. These comments had the effect of impairing Ms Newchurch’s “equality of opportunity to enjoy just and favourable conditions in a comfortable, inclusive and supported work environment where she felt secure and valued.” On this basis, the NTADC determined that Mr Ride discriminated against Ms Newchurch on the basis of race. The NTADC ordered Mr Ride to pay $8,000 in compensation.

The NTADC also found that Ms Ride, a technical assistant at Centreprise, racially discriminated against Ms Newchurch. Ms Ride is the granddaughter of Mr Ride. The NTADC held that Ms Ride had made a number of discriminatory comments including commenting that Ms Newchurch is not “black black” and referring to “f****ing black people s***.” The NTADC ordered Ms Ride to pay Ms Newchurch $4,000 in compensation.

The NTADC held that Centreprise was vicariously liable for the acts of Mr Ride and Ms Ride and determined that Centreprise was liable to pay 25% of the amounts due to Ms Newchurch as compensation for damage caused by Mr Ride’s conduct and by Ms Ride’s conduct.

Practical Joke at School Costs $156,000 in Compensation
Shane Green, a cleaner at Helensvale state school has been awarded more than $156,000 in compensation after his colleagues played a practical joke on him. On 23 September 2014, Mr Brooker (a groundsman) and Ms Keating (a cleaner) prepared the staffroom so that it portrayed the aftermath of a sex romp. This was intended to lead Mr Green to believe that a “sex romp” had occurred and that two other staff members who were rumoured to be having an affair had been involved. Mr Brooker had taken a mattress, pillow and bedclothes from the sick room and placed them on the staffroom floor. Mr Brooker then placed a number of items including condoms, undergarments and beer cans and wine bottles around the mattress. Neither Mr Brooker nor Ms Keating disclosed that this was a practical joke. Mr Green was particularly troubled about coming across the aftermath of what he believed to have been a “sex romp” and concerned by the possibility that two staff members were using school premises for their assignations. Mr Green made it known that he planned to speak to one of the staff members who he thought had been involved. After learning of Mr Green’s intention, Mr Brooker revealed to Mr Green that the set-up had been a practical joke on 26 September 2014. After this incident, Mr Green suffered from acute anxiety, which affected his ability to attend work. Mr Green was unable to return to work after 20 October 2014

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal determined that Mr Green had been subjected to sexual harassment and victimization on this incident and on other occasions between September 2014 and June 2015. QCAT determined that the State of Queensland was vicariously liable for the perpetrators’ conduct and ordered the State of Queensland, Mr Brooker and Ms Keating to pay a total of $156,051 in compensation.

Sexually Inappropriate Comments Ground for Dismissal
New South Wales Industrial Relations Commissioner John Murphy has dismissed a Senior Special Constable’s application for unfair dismissal, finding that the Constable had engaged in serious misconduct. The applicant was dismissed from his employment on 4 January 2016 after a finding that the applicant had engaged in misconduct. In particular, it was found that the applicant had:
a) sexually harassed a number of colleagues between September 2014 and February 2015 in breach of the NSWPF Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying Policy and Guidelines;
b) asked a female colleague whether she wanted to suck his c*** then intimidated the colleague into not making a complaint; and
c) behaved unprofessionally on several occasions in front of his colleagues, making inappropriate and offensive comments, such as “have you ever done a*** sex” and “suck my d***” whilst in the workplace.

In their decision, the IRC stated:
“The line between what could be regarded as acceptable conduct, and what is properly seen as unacceptable, will not always be easily drawn […] What might be regarded as an acceptable interaction between workers on an off shore oil rig or in the crib room of an underground coal mine, might not be seen as acceptable in a more genteel setting, such as the staff room of a primary school. Despite the inherent difficulty in drawing the line, there will be cases where the conduct of an individual employee falls so deeply within ‘unacceptable territory’ that it is difficult to contemplate that any reasonable person would regard the termination of that employee’s employment for such conduct as unfair.”

In this case, the IRC held that the misconduct of the applicant was “extremely serious.” The IRC considered that the applicant “displayed a complete disregard for the sensitivities of his fellow workers, especially the young female officers who were the target of his sexual harassment and bullying.” The IRC concluded that the applicant had not been unfairly dismissed.

Bullying Prolific Amongst Surgeons
The College of Intensive Care and Medicine has conducted a survey of 1000 fellows and trainees to investigate the prominence of discrimination and sexual harassment among surgeons. The survey found that one third of respondents reported being bullied in the part two years, 12% reported experiencing discrimination and 3% reported being sexually harassed. Further, the survey found that women were almost three times more likely to be sexually harassed then men and were more than twice as likely to report discrimination.

Employee Suing Correctional Centre for Bullying and Discrimination
Sharon McCallum-Clark, a former general manager at the Wolston Correctional Centre and Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre, is suing the State and Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) for $750,000. Ms McCallum-Clark is alleging that the State and QCS failed to protect her from bullying and discrimination. Ms McCallum-Clark claims that she was bullied and discriminated against when forced to move to different positions despite having made a request for a more flexible work arrangement. Further, Ms McCallum-Clark claims that QCS failed to act when a sexually violent prisoner threatened her.