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A Bad Business - Case Studies

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A Bad Business
(Review of sexual harassment in employment complaints 2002)

Media Pack

In this section you can access:

Media Pack Index | Media
| Launch Speech by Pru Goward | Speech by Nareen Young | Case Studies
Fact Sheets: Key Findings | The Complaints Process | Legal
Definition of Sexual Harassment
| Cost
to Employers

Case Studies

Sexual Harassment in
Employment Complaints

(All names have been changed to protect
the parties' privacy. These case studies, while additional to the
information provided in A Bad Business: Review of Sexual Harassment
in Employment Complaints 2002
, are summaries of actual allegations
made by complainants in nine of the complaint files reviewed.)

1. The staff
Christmas party

Two months after Amy started work
as a short-term contract delivery person, she attended the staff Christmas
party at a local hotel. She alleges on arriving at the hotel with
her sister, a group of about 10 male co-workers wolf-whistled and
made sexual remarks about Amy and her sister. Shortly afterwards,
a co-worker, Evan, walked over to the table where Amy and her sister
were sitting having a drink. He started to dance, and lifted his T-shirt,
exposing his stomach and chest. He then allegedly proceeded to loosen
his pants and turned around and bent over, exposing his bare backside
directly in front of Amy and her sister. Later in the evening, while
Amy was playing pool with another co-worker, Evan allegedly approached
Amy from behind and pulled down her top, exposing her right breast.
She claims she hit Evan over the head with her pool cue because she
was frightened and embarrassed. After this incident, Mark, another
co-worker, approached Amy and tried to wrench the pool cue from Amy’s
hand. Amy claims she was also intimidated by Evan, because he was
sitting across the room, staring at her.

Amy complained to her manager the following
work day about these incidents, and her employer conducted an investigation
into the complaint. Her allegations were substantiated. Evan was transferred
to another work-site, while Mark was reprimanded. After making her
complaint, Amy alleged that her co-workers treated her coldly and
her contract was not renewed. Amy lodged a complaint with HREOC seeking
financial compensation and the introduction of a more transparent
sexual harassment complaint and discipline procedure. Amy’s
employer settled her complaint privately for an undisclosed amount,
prior to going to a conciliation conference.

2. Alleged harassment
by the boss

Eleanor was 15 years old when she
started working as a casual shop assistant in a suburban store after
school and on weekends. Five months after starting work, Jeremy, the
32-year old owner and manager of the store allegedly asked Eleanor
if she had a boyfriend and whether she had had sex. He allegedly read
pornographic magazines in front of Eleanor asking her whether she
was ‘turned on’ by them. Eleanor claimed that Jeremy began
to kiss and touch her on a regular basis. He allegedly told Eleanor
of his sexual experiences, exposed his penis to her, started calling
Eleanor on her mobile phone when she was at school, put his fingers
into Eleanor’s vagina, asked her to suck his penis and masturbated
in front of her. Eleanor claimed that Jeremy frequently tried to have
sex with Eleanor in the store after closing time. Eleanor resigned
from her employment once she was eligible for Youth Allowance.

Eleanor lodged a complaint with HREOC
against Jeremy and the store alleging sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

The complaint settled at conciliation
with Eleanor receiving $17,000 by way of damages, payable in two installments.

3. Alleged harassment
by co-workers

Sue was employed as an advertising
sales executive at a regional newspaper. On the evening of Sue’s
birthday she joined co-workers at the local pub for a drink. At the
pub, Wayne, a co-worker, allegedly approached Sue, and showed her
a picture he had created. Sue claimed that the picture consisted of
her head superimposed onto a pornographic image of a woman. This image
had allegedly been circulating around Sue’s workplace for about
a week before.

The next day, Sue lodged a complaint
with the newspaper’s Sexual Harassment Officer and the General
Manager. Sue claimed that management assured her that Wayne would
be dismissed for his behaviour.

Three weeks later, upon returning from
leave, Sue discovered that Wayne had not been dismissed at all; rather
he had been required to take long service leave.

Sue claimed that she was taunted and
ridiculed by Wayne’s friends. They allegedly criticized her
work, berated her for other people’s mistakes and made sexual
comments about her appearance and sexual ability. They allegedly called
her a ”cry baby” who had gone “crying to the Boss”
and who was unable to take a joke.

Unable to deal with this situation
at work which Sue claims was making her unwell, she transferred to
another job at a different location even though it meant a reduction
in wages. However Sue was still required to have some contact with
Wayne’s friends. Sue went on sick leave shortly thereafter.
She claimed she was dismissed from her job while her employer claimed
she resigned.

Sue lodged a complaint with HREOC alleging
sexual harassment against the three co-workers responsible for the
harassment and her employer. She sought compensation for the loss
of income resulting from her dismissal and recompense for the hurt,
humiliation and victimization she experienced.

The matter settled at a conciliation
conference with the newspaper paying Sue damages to the sum of $5,000.

4. Alleged harassment by a co-worker

Shilpa was employed as a process worker
in a large factory. A co-worker, Jim, allegedly began to make comments
to Shilpa such as, “you look very sexy today” and “you
wear very nice clothes – they make you look sexy”. Shilpa
claimed that Jim would put his arms around her and try to share her
chair when she was eating lunch in the lunch room. Jim allegedly started
to persistently ask Shilpa out for dinner or lunch which she always
refused. She claimed that Jim would deliberately brush his arm against
Shilpa’s breasts when she was working on a machine near him
and say things like “how do you and your husband ever have sex
if you’re working the afternoon shift?” Jim allegedly
then started touching Shilpa from behind, grabbing her bra strap and
trying to undo it. Shilpa then claimed that Jim began grabbing her
on her breasts, trying to pretend he had tripped and landed in that

Shilpa claimed that eventually Jim
got the message that she was not interested in him. However Jim allegedly
started to criticize Shilpa’s work and make her work on the
most difficult machine constantly, rather than be rotated around the
other machines like the other staff members.

Shilpa lodged a formal complaint with
the production manager. As a result of Shilpa’s complaint, a
formal performance review of all staff in the area was undertaken.
However, Shilpa claimed that Jim was instrumental in carrying out
the review. From this point onwards, Shilpa claimed that she was constantly
called into Jim’s office for minor incidents that other staff
members were not criticized for nor questioned about. Shortly thereafter
Shilpa was given a verbal warning as to her work performance.

Due to the stress Shilpa claimed that
she developed a mental condition that required medication. She was
declared unfit to return to the workplace and was placed on workers’

Shilpa lodged a complaint with HREOC
alleging sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimization.
This matter did not settle at a conciliation conference and was terminated
on the ground of no reasonable prospect of conciliation. Shilpa lodged
an application with the Federal Court of Australia but the matter
was discontinued.

5. Alleged harasser “from the
old school and doesn’t know any better”

Tracey commenced working for a telecommunications
company through an employment agency as an administrative officer.
A co-worker, Sam, allegedly started to make innuendos and comments
of a sexual nature including “I know what you need”, “are
you wearing a G-string?” Tracey also claimed that Sam stared
at her breasts, tried to hold her hand when he was passing her something,
and invited Tracey to sit on his lap.

After almost 12 months of this behaviour,
Tracey stated that she was suffering from stress headaches and hated
going to work. She complained to the manager who responded by allegedly
saying that Sam was “from the old school and doesn’t know
any better” and to wait a few days or a week and see what happens.
No action was taken by the telecommunications company.

Tracey lodged a complaint with HREOC
alleging sexual harassment against Sam and the telecommunications

Prior to going to a conciliation conference,
the parties decided to negotiate settlement privately. The terms of
the final settlement remain undisclosed.

6. Alleged harassment by a customer

Bianca had recently moved to a country
town. Bianca claimed that her new neighbour, David, helped her find
a job as a casual bar attendant at the local boat club, of which David
was a member. Within two weeks, Bianca was appointed part-time Assistant
Manager. From the day Bianca commenced work, David allegedly started
to make unwanted sexual comments to Bianca such as “you owe
me big time for this girl, big time” and “come on show
me your tits and that will be enough”. Other comments that Bianca
claimed David made included “we want you to go in a wet t-shirt
competition, you would win hands down”. On one occasion when
Bianca was at work behind the bar, David allegedly kept repeating
to Bianca and other patrons at the bar “you’re a lesbian
aren’t you”. This continued for about two months. Bianca
decided to make a complaint to the manager of the boat club. No action
was taken.

Bianca requested a meeting with the
board of the boating club. Instead of investigating Bianca’s
complaint, Bianca claimed that the board members accused her of lying
and demoted her to a casual. Bianca claims, due to the mental and
emotional stress, she was unable to work.

The matter went to conciliation but
the parties failed to reach a settlement. Bianca filed an application
for hearing of her case in the Federal Magistrates Court, but the
matter settled prior to hearing.

7. Work-related travel

Tammy was employed as a full-time
receptionist/tour guide/shop assistant at a tourism facility. She
accompanied the co-director of the small company that owned the tourism
facility on a buying trip overseas. Upon arrival at the destination,
Tammy claimed that Joshua, the co-director and her direct supervisor,
had only booked one double room (with a double bed) for them to share.
After Tammy complained, Joshua allegedly changed the booking to a
twin room with two single beds but still expected Tammy to share the
motel room with him. Tammy claimed that Joshua told her not to worry
if she saw him naked as that was how he slept. He also allegedly said
that Tammy should not worry because “it was only small”,
while looking at his groin area.

After returning home, Tammy complained
to Monica, the other co-director of the company and Joshua’s
girlfriend. Monica allegedly apologized for Joshua’s behaviour
and told Tammy that she would deal with it. Shortly thereafter, Tammy’s
hours were reduced.

Tammy lodged a complaint with HREOC
alleging sexual harassment and victimization. Her complaint was terminated
on the ground of there being no reasonable prospect of the complaint
settling via conciliation. Tammy made an application for hearing of
her case by the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia but the case
was discontinued.

8. No employment relationship

Melanie was employed as a delivery
driver for a company that supplied vehicle spare parts. Upon delivering
a consignment of spare parts to a customer of the company, Gary, an
employee of the customer, allegedly lifted a long screwdriver up between
Melanie’s legs all to the way to her crotch. On another occasion,
Gary allegedly struck Melanie in the crotch with an airgun. Upon returning
to her workplace, Melanie claimed that she reported the incidences
to the acting manager. Melanie’s manager contacted Gary’s
manager who allegedly apologized for Gary’s behaviour and advised
that Gary would come and give Melanie a verbal apology. Melanie claimed
that this did not occur.

Several days later, two of Melanie’s
managers visited Gary’s workplace and spoke to Gary’s
manager about the complaint. Gary’s manager allegedly said that
Melanie flaunted her body in the workshop so she “asked for
it”. Melanie claimed that Gary’s manager said that he
would provide a written apology but this did not eventuate either.

Melanie lodged a complaint with HREOC
alleging sexual harassment against Gary and Gary’s employer.
The President of the Commission terminated the complaint on the ground
that it was not unlawful as there was no employment relationship between
Melanie and Gary, nor between Melanie and Gary’s employer.

9. No joking matter

Alice, a 51-year-old woman, worked
as a temp. She was contracted out to perform administrative duties
at a security company. Alice claimed that Geoffrey, a co-worker, was
very friendly to her, stopping in the mornings to have lengthy conversations
with her and compliment her on what she was wearing. A few days after
Alice started work, she was in the lunchroom when Geoffrey allegedly
walked behind Alice and rubbed her shoulders. Trying to fit in, Alice
said that it felt good and that she could be bribed, joking as she
was responsible for giving out the car parking stickers.

A week or so later Alice claimed that
Geoffrey came to Alice’s office first thing in the morning when
no one else was around and rubbed her shoulders again. Alice asked
Geoffrey what he wanted but he didn’t answer. Geoffrey allegedly
kissed Alice lightly on the head and started to walk out, leaving
Alice feeling very uncomfortable. Alice said seriously “I think
you’ve taken advantage of me” and Geoffrey allegedly answered
“I don’t think anyone could take advantage of you”.
Alice claimed that she blushed at this response, wondering if he meant
that she was cheap or had encouraged him.

Alice claimed that in the weeks that
followed, Geoffrey would often enter her office when no one else was
around and walk around Alice’s desk to stand closely beside
her. He would put his hand on her shoulder and lean over her. Geoffrey
would also stare at Alice’s chest when he was speaking to her.

Alice spoke to Geoffrey’s supervisor,
Max, about Geoffrey’s behaviour. When Alice suggested it was
sexual harassment, Max allegedly laughed and loudly made jokes about
sexual harassment about the office.

A month later, Alice’s contract
was not renewed. Alice lodged a complaint with HREOC against Geoffrey,
Max and the security company alleging sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

The matter settled at conciliation
with the company agreeing to pay general damages in the sum of $4,750,
and to provide a written employment reference. Geoffrey agreed to
provide a private letter of apology.

This fact sheet is also
available for download in PDF Document for DownloadPDF and Word Document for DownloadWord formats.

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updated: 12 November 2003