The full bench of the Federal Court has awarded Rebecca Richardson, former executive at software firm Oracle, $130,000 for the distress she experienced from being sexually harassed by a male colleague.
The amount is more than seven times the $18,000 that Justice Robert Buchanan awarded her last year and it also reversed his decision that Richardson had to pay her own legal costs, since she had rejected an earlier offer to settle the case for $55,000, the Sydney Morning Herald
The full bench considered the earlier payment to be “manifestly inadequate”.
“It was out of step with the general standards prevailing in the community regarding the monetary value of the loss and damage of the kind Ms Richardson sustained,” read the judgement.
reported that Richardson, an American, was employed at the business’ Sydney office as a consulting manager.
In 2008, she began working on a project with a team that included Randol Tucker, a Melbourne salesman for Oracle.
Tucker, who was married with young children, made a series of slurs and sexual advances towards Richardson, often in front of colleagues.
According to a Lexology
article by Penny Brooke and Emily Haar of Piper Alderman, Richardson tried to deal with the situation by herself but eventually spoke to her manager, who referred the complaint to HR.
An investigation was conducted, during which Richardson and Tucker continued to work together.
Tucker apologised for what he thought had been “a lighthearted exchange” and was given a “first and final warning” by the company about his behaviour.
Richardson resigned soon after, claiming that his behaviour had caused her psychological distress, undermined her confidence, damaged her career and affected her sexual relationships.
Oracle had relied on its code of ethics and business conduct, which stated that harassment was prohibited and required employees to undertake online sexual harassment training every two years.
The court found that the company’s harassment policy was inadequate, especially because Oracle had introduced a new workplace diversity policy after Richardson’s complaint, which required face-to-face harassment training.
Justice Buchanan found that the online training package was inadequate because it did not meet the minimum standard set out in Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Code of Practice for Employers (2004 Guidelines), published by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
The training package did not advise in clear terms, as required by the guidelines, that sexual harassment was unlawful, or that it could lead to legal action taken against the harasser as well as the employer company.
Because the company could have implemented better measures before the harassment, Justice Buchanan found that Oracle had not taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent the behaviour, and was therefore liable for compensation.
Amber Sharp and Wesley Rogers of Marque Lawyers said the full bench ruling marked a “significant shift” in the court’s approach to assessing damages in sexual harassment cases.
In a Lexology
article, the pair said the case would open the door to “considerably higher awards for compensation”.
“We’ve entered a new and more costly era of sexual harassment claims. You’ve been warned.”
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