Bar Raised on Sexual Harassment Claims

Sexual HarassmentIn the past, claims for damages for sexual harassment have generally seen only relatively modest awards of damages made for the offence and insult caused by the conduct, but some recent Federal Court decisions appear to have raised the bar in terms of the award of damages in these types of cases.

In Vagara v Ewin [2014] FCAFC 100, an employee had been sexually harassed on four occasions by a contractor who was working for the same employer.  Her complaints to her boss were not taken seriously and ultimately she felt that she had no option but to resign.  She was recently awarded almost $500,000.00 in compensation including a significant allowance for economic loss that she suffered as a result of leaving the employer.

Subsequently, in Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd [2014] FCAFC 82, an employee had been repeatedly sexually harassed over an eight month period.  After she made a complaint regarding the conduct, the Plaintiff found herself being put in another lower paying position by the employer instead of removing the sexual harasser from the workplace.  Ultimately, the Plaintiff left the employer and she was awarded, on appeal, $100,000.00 for pain and suffering and $30,000.00 for economic loss that she had suffered.

Some might argue that awards of that magnitude are difficult to reconcile with the award for pain and suffering in physical injury cases but for now, at least, the message is clear, sexual harassment is being taken seriously by the Courts and from an employer’s perspective, carefully crafted policies and systems to enforce them are an important risk management tool to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace.

Travis Schultz
Managing Partner
Schultz Toomey O’Brien Lawyers
Ph: (07) 5413 8900
Fax: (07) 5413 8958