What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 3 – 9 September 2018

$20,000 Payout for Employee due to Discrimination Based on Assumed Mental Illness
The Equal Opportunity Division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal has found that a child protection caseworker was discriminated against by being ordered to take sick leave. According to her Department of Family and Community Services colleagues, Jennifer Stefanac spoke with them “animatedly about various conspiracy theories”, including flat earth theories, and aliens walking amongst humans as fallen angels. Her manager, Megan Beckett, worried about Ms Stefanac’s capacity to work with vulnerable families in her “disturbed” state, directed her to take sick leave immediately. Ms Stefanac denied believing strongly in such conspiracies and claimed to merely have been talking about interesting things that she had read. The Tribunal agreed that her “discussion of conspiracy theories was not symptomatic of any mental illness” and described the department’s own reasoning as “not logical”. It found she had been discriminated against on the basis of an assumed mental illness, which had put her at a substantial disadvantage. As such, it awarded her damages in the amount of $20,000.

Greens Party Leader Accused of Sexist and Bullying Behaviour
A former Victorian Greens party leader has been accused of being sexist. Greg Barber allegedly called female colleagues “fat, hairy lesbians” and “hairy-legged feminists”, as well as maintaining a “men’s room” into which female staff could only enter on invitation. In early 2018 Mr Barber reached a settlement with a female staffer over similar issues. Liz Ingham, who claimed that Mr Barber discriminated against and bullied her, said that the “Greens don’t care what happens to women within the party”. Trevor Coon, Ms Ingham’s husband, said that she was isolated and bullied after raising her concerns with Mr Barber. Her $56,000 settlement required Mr Barber to personally pay $9000 and have his male staff members participate in bias and discrimination training. Victorian Greens’ co-convenor Rose Read would not comment on the case but stated that the “wellbeing of Greens’ employees is of the greatest importance to the party”.

Policewoman Investigated for Predatory Conduct with Male Subordinate
A Victorian policewoman has evaded serious disciplinary action after an investigation into her “predatory relationship” with a male subordinate. The unnamed, high-ranking female officer was the subject of investigations by the Salus sexual harassment taskforce and Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission into misconduct. While the taskforce suggested that the power imbalance could undermine the perception of the officers’ integrity and recommended imposing heavy sanctions on her, she was ultimately directed into counselling instead. Her case has brought to the forefront the question of whether the police force is capable of properly investigating antisocial behaviour and misconduct of its own members.

More Allegations of Bullying Within Liberal Party
A Liberal party senator has threatened to reveal the identities of colleagues who bullied and intimidated her. Senator Lucy Gichuhi’s comments come in the wake of the recent saga that saw Malcolm Turnbull replaced as Prime Minister. Ms Gichuhi spoke of having seen “senators and ministers in tears”, such was the extent of the antisocial behaviour. While accepting that politics could be a harsh occupation, she denied that this was part and parcel of that acceptable behaviour, labelling it a “systematic kind of issue”. Her comments were echoed by Minister Kelly O’Dwyer, who said that threats, intimidation and bullying went beyond “accepted bounds”. Ms Gichuhi suggested that a formal, structured dispute resolution-style approach was necessary to prevent such behaviour from continuing to occur.

Canberra Surgeon Calls for Inquiry into Bullying in ACT Health System
A Canberra surgeon has called for an inquiry into the prevalence of bullying in the ACT health system. Dr Maurice Mulcahy claims to have been forced out of the public healthy system for raising concerns about the problematic internal culture. Dr Mulcahy, who now works in private practice, said the high degree of the bullying and harassment was endangering people’s lives. According to Dr Mulcahy, while other employees of the system agreed on the cultural issues inherent in their workplace, they were unable to report it for fear of repercussions. As such, he recommended that an inquiry in the vein of a royal commission would encourage people to speak more openly and effect change. A spokeswoman for ACT Health maintained that they had a zero-tolerance policy to such inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

Gender Equality Research from Uni of Canberra
Research from the University of Canberra has revealed a degree of opposition to gender equality, particularly among men born between 1982 and 2000. Authored by Professor Mark Evans and Virginia Haussegger from the 50/50 Foundation, the research is the product of a survey of 2122 Australians across age, gender and demographic markers. The results indicate that 46% of men do not think gender equality procedures take males into account, 42% of men feel excluded from these same measures, and 41% of men consider that political correctness puts women at an advantage in the workplace. Professor Evans and Ms Haussegger noted that “there is no room for complacency” if workplaces are to address gender inequality, given that younger men consider themselves outsiders in the debate.