Christmas party groper wins unfair dismissal case

An employee who was fired for touching five women’s breasts at his work Christmas party has been reinstated after taking his case to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

A man who groped five women at his office Christmas party has been reinstated in his former job after the NSW Industrial Relations Commission ruled that his dismissal was harsh compared to the punishment given to a senior manager who committed a similar offence.

The man, who worked as a project officer and clerk for the Downing Centre Local Court, was fired by the Department of the Attorney General and Justice in December last year, after an investigation into his behaviour at the staff Christmas party the year before.

He had touched five women’s breasts and divulged confidential information to a co-worker, telling her she hadn’t got a position she’d applied for.

The man apologised after the party, saying he had not meant to offend the women and that what he did, as a gay man, was in good humour, particularly as he was friends with one of the women outside of work.

Commissioner Inaam Tabbaa found that his dismissal was harsh compared to the punishment given to a senior manager who had groped two women at the party, one of whom was under his direct supervision. The manager was demoted for his actions, rather than being fired.

The commissioner described the behaviour of both men as “deplorable, unsolicited” and said it had “the potential to undermine the integrity and reputation of the department.”

She said the number of women that each man had touched inappropriately was “neither here nor there – it was one woman too many” and that it went without saying that people did not invade the person space of others or touch them without permission.

However, the commissioner determined that it was possible to reinstate the project officer as he had continued in his role for the year between the Christmas party and his dismissal and had a “cordial relationship” with three of the five women, with whom he still had contact through work.

The man will be reinstated in his former role, but must send a written apology to the five women and must undertake sexual harassment training.

“I have no doubt that the applicant has been humiliated and embarrassed by his actions at that function and will live with the consequences for a long time to come,” said the commissioner.

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