What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 23 January 2023 – 29 January 2023

Virgin Airlines Overturns Unfair Dismissal Decision by the Fair Work Commission

Virgin Australia has successfully overturned a decision made by the Fair Work Commission last year in relation to an unfair dismissal case of a former employee. The Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission found that the previous decision dismissing DeVania Blackburn did not take into account the earlier cautions the airline provided and the steps the company took prior to terminating her. Blackburn faced a number of allegations while working at Virgin including that she was seen watching a movie on her iPad and falling asleep in a passenger seat while on duty. Further, Blackburn was given warnings when she was seen exiting the plane carrying a bag of food from her shift and breaching the dress code on several occasion.

Senator Linda Reynolds Initiates Legal Action Against Brittany Higgins’ Partner

SBS released an article this week detailing that Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds has commenced defamation proceedings against Brittany Higgins’ partner David Sharaz. Ms Reynolds claimed that Mr Sharaz defamed her in two tweets he posted in 2022. Ms Higgins commenced criminal proceedings against Bruce Lehrmann in 2019, alleging she was raped inside Reynolds’ ministerial office. Mr Lehrmann denied the allegations throughout the course of the trial before the proceedings were abandoned due to juror misconduct. Ms Reynolds detailed that the proceedings concerning Ms Higgins had “damaged her reputation and caused considerable stress and anguish.” Ms Reynolds is seeking damages and an injunction preventing Mr Sharaz from publishing any defamatory material.

NSW to Implement New Scheme Against Domestic Violence

The NSW has released a statement outlining its intention to implement new protections for potential domestic violent victims. The new scheme, dubbed the ‘Right to Ask’, would allow individuals to determine whether their partner has a history of domestic violence offences. The statement details how the new scheme will be based on the United Kingdom’s “Clare’s Law”, ultimately allowing partners to make informed decisions about their relationships. NSW is the first state in Australia to trial new domestic violence disclosure programs, with the scheme set to be reviewed after a period of 12 months.

ANU Recommends Employers Fund Employee’s Sexual Harassment Legal Costs

The ANU have released a report, commissioned by the Attorney-General, recommending that the government legislate to make respondents in sexual harassment cases fund the legal costs. The Attorney-General commissioned the report as part of Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ 2020 Respect at Work report into sexual harassment. The Canberra Times describes that within this report, a key barrier to sexual harassment claims is legal cost. The report recommends an “asymmetric” cost module, similar to the legislation surrounding whistle blowers.

Federal Government Involved in Trade Union’s Fight Against Qantas

The Australian federal government has joined forces with the “Transport Workers’ Union” (TWU) in the appeal case before the High Court of Australia to overturn a decision made by the full bench of the federal court. The appeal involves overturning a decision where Qantas was found to illegally outsource “1,700 ground handlers’ jobs.” The Guardian states that the High Court allowed the appeal on the basis that “at the time the jobs were outsourced, the workers had no right to take industrial action.” The airline argued that their workers were prevented from initiating protected industrial action until after the 31 December 2020 agreement expired, ultimately a month after employees’ jobs were outsourced.