Unaddressed sexual harassment costly

by 08 Jul 2009

THE COUNTRY’S second-largest award for sexual harassment should provide a $466,000 wake-up call for Australian work places on the risks of sexual harassment.

On 23 June the Federal Court ruled that Malgorzata Poniatowska, a female employee of South Australian housing developer, Hick inbotham Group, was sexually abused and then unfairly sacked when she made multiple complaints about the abuse. The court or dered her employer to pay $466,000 in dam ages and her legal expenses – which are ex pected to amount to more than $1 million.

Poniatowska had made a number of com plaints to her Hickinbotham manager about what she considered were lurid emails and text messages from male colleagues in 2005. She was sacked in 2006, with her employer claiming that her dismissal was due to poor working performance.

Justice John Mansfield did not accept performance as a justifiable reason for the dismissal, and, instead, accepted Ponia towska’s versions of events that the organi sation had sought to target her, following her complaints of sexual harassment. “Ms Poni atowska was not treated as the victim of sex ual harassment, but as a problem to be dealt with,” Justice Mansfield found.

The finding was the second largest pay ment for sexual harassment awarded in Aus tralia, behind a $492,000 sum awarded to a woman who was raped at her workplace.

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