X-rated photos central to sexual harassment case

by Victoria Bruce25 Jan 2016
A senior lawyer accused of sending photos of his erect penis and sexually explicit text messages to a junior employee is facing a sexual harassment suit.

The lawyer, who works at a Melbourne CBD firm, has been accused of harassing his female colleague over a seven month period in 2015.

He allegedly bombarded her with sexually explicit text messages and became aggressive when she didn’t respond to him, Fairfax Media reported.

He supposedly sent messages saying, "I want to f--- you madly", and told her about his erect penis.

The woman said that if she did not reply, he then became aggressive and abusive.
 
"Why are you f-----g ignoring me? I'm your boss. Show some respect," he allegedly said in another text. 

However the law firm, which has not been named, categorically denies the woman’s claims and maintains the text-message relationship was inappropriate, yet consensual.

Maurice Blackburn principal Josh Bornstein is representing the woman, who is seeking damages and compensation.

"This is a case that has featured a barrage of sexually charged, explicit material being sent by a senior person to a younger employee, including X-rated photographs," Mr Bornstein was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald.
 
"It is behaviour that is at the extreme end of sexually harassing behaviour and it has no place in a law firm, footy club or any other workplace."
 
Mr Bornstein described the alleged harassment as "relentless" and says workplaces need to do more to tackle the issue.
 
"We still have enormous work to do in getting organisations to confront wrongdoing … and where the wrongdoing is by someone highly regarded or valuable to the organisation, it is no excuse for failing to hold people to account," Mr Bornstein told the SMH.
 
One in four women are sexually harassed in the workplace, according to the 2012 national sexual harassment survey.

Sexual harassment is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

The Australian Human Rights Commission lists some examples of behaviour that may be considered sexual harassment as:
  • Sexually suggestive comments or jokes
  • Intrusive questions about your private life or physical appearance
  • Inappropriate staring or leering
  • Unwelcome hugging, kissing or cornering or other types of inappropriate physical contact
  • Sexually explicit text messages, images, phone calls or emails
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, sexual harassment is ‘any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.’

The Commission makes the point of saying ‘sexual harassment is not interaction, flirtation or friendship which is mutual or consensual.’

A review published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behaviour says sexual harassment claims more victims than any other sexual crime.

‘It affects a significant proportion of working women and it affects their personal lives and professional functioning, thus preventing them from advancing in the workplace, and affecting one of their fundamental human rights; the right to work with dignity,’ the review states.
 
The alleged harassment has taken a heavy toll on his client’s health, says Mr Bornstein.
 
It is also alleged that the woman repeatedly complained to her practice manager, her alleged harasser, and one of the firm's principal lawyers.

The Human Rights Commission encourages persons experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace to:
  • Raise the issue directly with the harasser and tell them that their behaviour is unwelcome
  • Talk to a colleague for support
  • Talk to a union delegate or contact a union office for advice
  • Contact a community legal centre or working women’s centre for legal advice 
  • Contact 1800 RESPECT for telephone and online counselling, information and referral
  • Make a complaint to your manager/employer
  • Contact the Australian Human Rights Commission or state and federal anti-discrimination agencies for information or to make a complaint.

COMMENTS

  • by HR Dude 25/01/2016 12:20:14 PM

    A good example of where the power in the relationship was completely unbalanced. Even if both parties 'consented' there is the risk that the junior employee was doing so because of the risk to her career should she have said no. Further, there has been a few high profile cases showing the negative culture in law firms, and anecdotal evidence I've heard backs this up.

  • by Human Resources 27/01/2016 8:51:30 AM

    Perhaps the Human Rights Commission should encourage people to speak with a Human Resources specialist. They mention speaking to a union, but not a Human Resources person, a specialist trained to deal with such matters. I'm hoping this is paraphrased by HC online, it would be sad that the Human Rights commission leave out HR, while being interviewed by a HR representative body.

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