Colliers sexual harassment claim puts HR in spotlight

by John Maguire14 Jun 2016
Commercial real estate company Colliers and one of its former employees have agreed to a private mediation, following the exposure of the ex-worker’s allegations of sexual harassment against the firm’s CFO.

A lawsuit was filed last week by Alexandra Marks, suing Colliers International Australia CFO Sean Unwin for sexual harassment. Marks alleges that Unwin tried to force her face towards his crotch, undressed in front of her, looked up her skirt and offered to arrange for her to have sex with an office colleague.

According to court documents, Marks did not report Unwin’s behaviour to HR at the time because of a lack of confidence in the department. She had observed HR dealing with sensitive information in an improper manner, and deemed that Colliers HR “ought not to be trusted with the details of my complaint”.

Court documents said that in March 2015, Marks was called to a meeting with the HR manager and Unwin, in which Unwin allegedly told her a staff member had made a complaint against her, regarding having seen her having sex with a colleague in a meeting room.

Marks believed this complaint was genuine, with Unwin and the HR manager then allegedly laughing at her. The HR manager is alleged to have later apologised, saying “He [Unwin] forced me go along with the joke”.

Marks’ lawyers, Harmers Workplace Lawyers, have now revealed that a private mediation will take place. A spokesperson for Colliers said, “Out of respect for the privacy of both individuals involved and the court process it would be inappropriate for us to comment further except to say that providing a safe and professional workplace for our more than 1000 employees is our highest priority.”

Colliers had previously said that Unwin would “vigorously defend all allegations”.
 
According to Patricia Ryan of The Workplace Employment Lawyers, Marks could potentially be awarded compensation of up to $750,000.

“She is alleging repeated behaviour over a period of time and she said she made it clear to the person the conduct was unwelcome,” said Ryan.

 

COMMENTS

  • by Bernie Althofer 14/06/2016 3:14:17 PM

    Reporting various forms of counterproductive workplace behaviours such as sexual harassment and bullying may not always occur in terms of an organisational policy. Past experience suggests that individuals do tend to seek out those they can trust, and this trust is built based on a number of contacts, maintainence of confidences, information and support provided, empathy and humanity, even though at times, a support person becomes the person that is expected to solve the problem.

    Unfortunately no amount of trust established between a target and a support person will result in an incident being reported, unless the target can also trust others in the organisation. When a workplace culture is such that individuals perceive they will be further targeted, victimised, intimidated, coerced, cajoled or even talked out of making a complaint, it seems that some individuals will 'give up' because not only do they not trust some people in key positions, they don't trust the systems and processes (internal and external) that are designed to assist in achieving an outcome.

    Past experience suggests that in some cases, individuals know that the system is weighted against them so they seek advice from a support person and frame their inquiry around the "I have a friend and this is happening to them". The support person may adduce that the person is referring to themself, an no amount of 'cajoliing' or comforting will encourage the individual to report the incident.

    Whilst HR might the 'organisational owners' of policies designed to detect, prevent, report and resolve all forms of counterproductive workplace behaviours, onus and responsibility has to be shared. No still means no.

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