Silenced by Retaliation: Real-Life Stories of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a widespread issue that can have serious consequences for victims, including loss of employment, mental health issues, and financial hardship. Despite efforts to prevent and address such behaviour, many individuals still experience harassment in various industries. Employers need to take proactive steps to prevent sexual harassment and provide a safe reporting system. It is also important for victims to speak up and seek support from advocates or legal professionals. By working together, we can create a workplace free from sexual harassment and ensure that victims receive the justice and support they deserve.

1. Bishop v Takla [2004] FMCA 74

During her time at Mr Takla’s real estate enterprise, Ms Bishop was persistently subjected to unwanted sexual advances for a period of six months. The unwanted sexual advances included physical touching, sexual comments, and suggestions, which created a hostile and intimidating work environment for Ms Bishop. As a result of the sexual harassment, Ms Bishop developed post-traumatic stress disorder and eventually resigned from her job.

A claim was filed by Ms Bishop against Mr Takla for sex-based unlawful discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). She sought damages for the harm caused to her as a result of the sexual harassment.

Solution:

The Federal Magistrates Court of Australia found Mr Takla guilty of engaging in sexual harassment towards Ms Bishop. The court also found that Mr Takla’s behaviour had caused significant psychological trauma to Ms Bishop, leading to her resignation from the job. As a result, the court awarded Ms Bishop $24,386.40 in compensation for the harm caused to her. This case serves as a reminder of the serious consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace and the importance of taking steps to prevent and address such conduct.

2. Lee v Smith & Ors [2007] FMCA 59 (23 March 2007)

Accusations of sexual harassment and rape were levelled against Mr Smith and two others, who were colleagues of Ms Lee at the Department of Defence. According to Ms Lee, Mr Smith committed acts of sexual harassment against her by circulating calendars depicting topless women and making sexually explicit comments.

The harassment resulted in Mr Smith sexually assaulting Ms Lee by lifting her skirt and squeezing her buttock. Later, Mr Smith raped Ms Lee after she passed out at a work dinner.

Ms Lee brought a claim against Mr Smith, the Department of Defence, and the other individuals, alleging that they had engaged in unlawful conduct and were vicariously liable for Mr Smith’s actions.

Solution:

The court found Mr Smith responsible for sexual harassment, rape, and subsequent harassment. They described his behaviour as “repugnant, degrading, and cruel.” Pus, the court held the Department of Defence vicariously responsible for Mr Smith’s actions since he was their employee, and the misconduct occurred during his employment.

As a result of the court’s decision, Ms Lee was awarded $100,000 in damages. This case serves as a reminder of the employers’ responsibility to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and take swift action when it does occur.

3. Nunan v Aaction Traffic Services Pty Ltd [2013] QCAT 565 (14 October 2013)

The case of Nunan v Aaction Traffic Services Pty Ltd provides a clear-cut example of the harm that can be caused by sexual harassment in the workplace. For five months, a male co-worker made unwelcome sexual comments, questions, noises, and gestures towards a female traffic control worker, causing her significant distress.

The co-worker’s behaviour included inappropriate sucking noises, rubbing the stop/slow stick on his groin area, and lewdly sticking out his tongue after seeing a picture of the woman’s breasts on her phone. As a result, the woman suffered negative effects on her well-being, and the co-worker’s actions were identified as a significant factor contributing to her condition.

The harassment was so severe that the woman was forced to resign from her job and suffered from Major Depressive Disorder, which had lasting effects for three years, including an inability to work. Despite the settlements reached with the companies involved, the tribunal found that the individual co-worker could still be held liable for his actions.

Solution:

As a result of the Nunan v Aaction Traffic Services Pty Ltd case, the tribunal ordered a compensation payout of $102,217 to the woman. The amount was deducted by settlement amounts and any WorkCover payments. The tribunal acknowledged the difficulty women face in coping with unwanted sexual comments in male-dominated workplaces.

The tribunal further encouraged women to report harassment to management but recognized that it may not always be practical to do so. In this case, the woman did not report the harassment for fear of jeopardising her job but eventually resigned due to the severe effects of the harassment. Despite the settlements reached with the companies, the tribunal held the individual co-worker liable for his actions and ordered compensation for the harm caused by his sexual harassment.

4. Shepherd v Tuck and Tuki Marine Surveys Pty Ltd [2002] QADT 10 (19 April 2002)

The case of Ms Shepherd and Tuki Marine Surveys Pty Ltd is one that centres around allegations of sexual harassment and unfair termination. Ms Shepherd claimed that her employment was terminated after just two months due to sexual harassment from her employer, Mr Tuck.

Inappropriate comments, jokes, and suggestions were identified by Ms. Shepherd as types of harassment. On the other hand, Mr Tuck denied the allegations and claimed that Ms Shepherd’s termination was due to her inappropriate conduct, lack of capacity to perform tasks, and poor workplace performance.

Mr Tuck pointed out several instances of Ms Shepherd’s alleged misconduct, such as distributing company business cards to males that she was interested in, making a significant error in a ship’s manual, refusing to perform fieldwork, prioritising personal matters over business appointments, and driving the company car while under the influence of alcohol.

Solution:

According to the findings of Member Pagani, both parties in the case of Ms Shepherd and Tuki Marine Surveys Pty Ltd were generally in agreement on the facts, and neither was intentionally deceitful. However, the main point of the dispute was whether Mr Tuck had intended to offend Ms Shepherd with his behaviour.

Member Pagani determined that Mr Tuck’s proposal of a personal relationship would not have been offensive to a reasonable person in Ms Shepherd’s circumstances. Additionally, the investigation revealed that Ms Shepherd and Mr Tuck had a casual and personal working relationship, and that Ms Shepherd willingly engaged in the rough and tumble work environment. As a result, Ms Shepherd’s claim of sexual harassment was dismissed, as she failed to provide sufficient evidence to support her case.

5. Hughes trading as Beesley and Hughes Lawyers v Hill [2020] FCAFC 126

The case of Hughes v Hill [2020] centered around allegations of sexual harassment by Mr Hughes, made by his former paralegal, Ms Hill. According to Ms Hill, Mr Hughes subjected her to a sustained campaign of unwanted advances, including sending unsolicited messages, entering her hotel room and office without permission, and making threats about her employment.

Mr Hughes’ representation of Ms Hill during mediation with her ex-spouse gave him access to her private and confidential information, which further increased the power dynamic between them. Mr Hughes exacerbated this situation by making promises to train Ms Hill as a solicitor.

During the trial, evidence emerged that supported Ms Hill’s claims against Mr Hughes, including his unwelcome and persistent advances that created a hostile work environment for her.

Solution:

In the case of Hughes v Hill [2020], Mr Hughes was found guilty of sexual harassment and ordered to pay Ms Hill $170,000 in damages. After Mr Hughes appealed the decision, the Full Court of the Federal Court upheld the judge’s decision and denied his claims that the damages were excessive. The ruling highlights the trend of courts award damages in sexual harassment cases, emphasizing the importance of employers maintaining professional boundaries and avoiding abusing their power over employees.

Man putting a hand on a women coworker's shoulder

Wrapping Up

Sexual harassment in the workplace remains a serious and common issue that can have severe consequences for victims. Preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace requires action from both employers and victims. Employers must take proactive steps to create a safe and respectful workplace culture, while victims must be empowered to speak up and seek support. It is essential to create a workplace culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated, and individuals feel safe and respected. The stories shared in this article serve as a reminder of the urgent need to take action to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace.