This week, the Federal Court ordered a record amount of general damages in a sexual harassment case in Sydney. Justice Anna Katzmann awarded Fiona Taylor $268,233.64 in damages after she was found to have been sexually harassed by Simon Grew, owner of Grew & Co. Ms Taylor was awarded $140,000 in general damages, $15,000 in aggravated damages, $23,070.75 for compensation of past economic loss, $46,284 for future economic loss, $3,000 for future out-of-pocket expenses and $40,000 for victimisation. The previous largest general damages awarded under the federal Sex Discrimination Act was $120,000 in 2019. Ms Taylor was slapped on the bottom by Mr Grew as she walked through a doorway from an office into the jewellery shop in July 2019. Ms Taylor did not report the incident at the time because Grew & Co did not have human resources and she feared losing her role. Justice Katzmann stated in her judgment that “the slap on the buttock in July 2019 was certainly unwelcome. Not only did Ms Taylor give evidence to this effect but Mr Grew’s apologies indicate that he realised it was.”
A recent report released by employment rights legal centre JobWatch, RMIT University and the University of Wollongong has found that the majority of employers in a survey were not taking internal complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination seriously. Further, the report found that these employers do not effectively protect employees in the workplace. The report showed that 95% of respondents had experienced discrimination either multiple times or by multiple perpetrators. Almost three in four of the respondents reported that they experienced multiplied adverse outcomes as a result of the harassment or discrimination, including “loss of job opportunities, financial reward and workplace bullying’. Only 3% of respondents said that taking action against their experience of sexual harassment and discrimination resulted in a positive outcome. Zana Bytheway, executive director of JobWatch, stated that “many people talked about the stress, anxiety, poor mental health and in one case – even hospitalisation that resulted from their experiences of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination.”
Royal Perth Golf Club has faced an investigation relating to claims of bullying and sexual harassment by WorkSafe WA. A female staff member had reported that she was bullied and subjected to sexual harassment by a member of the club. Other members have raised concerns in the past about how women are treated at the club, with one member stating that “it’s a boys’ club gone nuts”. President of the club, Steve Irons, stated that “the club has cooperated with WorkSafe… however, it will vigorously defend any baseless sexual harassment or workplace bullying claims.” Further, he said that “the club is committed to a workplace free of sexual harassment, workplace bullying and other misbehaviour. If any improvements are identified by WorkSafe to ensure the club is ‘best practice’ then the club will work with WorkSafe to implement such improvements.”
SafeWork SA announced this week that victim-survivors of domestic and family violence working within the public sector can now access 15 days paid leave. The Fair Work (Domestic and Family Violence Leave) Amendment Act 2023 commenced on 1 September 2023, which provides the additional entitlement for State Government and Local Government workers in South Australia. The Act allows employees to immediately access paid leave for a range of purposes, including “attending medical appointments, legal proceedings, legal assistance, court appearances, counselling, relocation, the making of safety arrangements and other activities associated with the experience of family and domestic violence.” The leave entitlements extend to full-time, part-time and casual workers.
It was revealed this week that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) had received seven sexual assault allegations against federal politicians between 24 February 2021 and 30 June 2022. The information detailed that two of the allegations were investigated by AFP, while the remaining five were referred to the state and territory police. The details of the allegations were redacted. The AFP commissioner, Reece Kershaw, told a Senate estimates hearing in May 2021 that the agency had received 19 allegations involving parliaments, their staff or “official establishments.” Some of the allegations were sexual in nature, but not all. More than 2 years later, the AFP had confirmed that this number had increased to 28 allegations between February 2021 and February 2022.
Approximately 100 users a day sought help after they had potentially experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in the first month of a newly anonymous Western Australian survey aimed at the mining industry. The questionnaire was designed to “provide guidance and support after experiencing or witnessing such misconduct on a mine site.” The questionnaire attracted more than 2,600 users in the first month alone. The website provides workers an assessment regarding the “level of urgency” of their situation. A spokeswoman for the Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety stated that “after answering a number of trauma-informed questions, the individual will be directed to the most relevant agencies and provided with applicable information about support, legal rights and reporting.” The website was launched at the Mining Industry Summit on 1 August. Since its inception, the number of workers using the support has reduced to 761 between mid-September and 6 November. Western Mining Alliance co-founder and CFMEU mining representative Greg Busson stated that “it highlights that people have got confidence in coming forward now.” Further, he said that “I think the fact that it is under the guise of a regulator and is independent – or not seen as connected to any of the companies – I think that encourages people.” Lastly, Mr Busson said “it’s not something they should be ashamed of. It’s the perpetrators that should be ashamed.”
This week, Danny Elfman has denied allegations of sexual abuse. The 70-year-old musician was accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault by two different women. The second woman alleged that he abused her from 1997 to 2002 when she was a 21-year-old student at the New York Film Academy. In a statement, Elfman’s lawyer Camille Vasquez stated that he “committed no sexual abuse, made no inappropriate advances and never inappropriately touched.” Further, she said that “recognising that her absurd allegations would carry no weight in a court of law, Plaintiff and her attorneys chose to embark on a disinformation campaign, providing her dishonest Complaint to the media days before it was filed with the Court or became publicly available on the Court’s docket.”
American research stations in Antarctica are being investigated following long-reported allegations of sexual misconduct. The issue has been described as a “pervasive problem.” Investigators from the watchdog office which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF) are due to arrive at McMurdo Station on Monday. The journey follows a critical report released by NSF which found a culture of sexual harassment and assault within the US Antarctic Program. 95% of the 800 respondents reported that they “knew of someone who had been assaulted or harassed within the program.”
This week, Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds, former staffer Brittany Higgins and Ms Higgins’ partner, David Sharaz, were ordered by Justice Solomon to meet before a judge in person with their legal teams on March 5 and 6 to remove the need for a trial. Justice Solomon reiterated his concerns about the human cost of a potential trial. Former defence minister Reynolds is seeking that Sharaz pay damages, as well as aggravated damages, in relation to five social media posts. Further, she has sought an injunction which prevents the material from surfacing in the future. Ms Reynolds has asked for two injunctions to prevent Ms Higgins from publishing defamatory material about her and preventing her from further breaches of a non-disparagement clause. The Supreme Court has allocated a six-week trial commencing on 24 July. However, Mr Sharaz’s lawyers have alluded that they have not ruled out transferring the matter to the ACT. Justice Solomon stated on Wednesday that “my position has been this should be settled outside court, and I’ve not shifted one iota from that view.”
Police officers have requested to join a court challenge to the outcome of Bruce Lehrmann’s prosecution inquiry. They have asked for some of the findings to remain but have challenged others that they say question the “character and conduct” of police. No findings have been made against Mr Lehrmann and he has always maintained his innocence. An inquiry, conducted by former Queensland judge Walter Sofronoff, was held into the prosecution of Mr Lehrmann by the former ACT director of public prosecutions (DPP), Shane Drumgold. The inquiry criticised Mr Drumgold and included an accusation that “Mr Drumgold had not acted with fairness and detachment and had knowingly lied to Chief Justice Lucy McCallum about a conversation with journalist Lisa Wilkinson.” However, Mr Drumgold has lodged a civil action within the ACT Supreme Court and sought to quash the findings. The police officers who have requested to join the case include Detective Superintendent Scott Moller, Commander Michael Chew and Senior Constable Emma Frizzell.