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Harassed, discriminated against but not victimised

A commission has awarded the woman over $50,000 in damages.
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Harassed, discriminated against but not victimised

Harassed, discriminated against but not victimised

30 March 2021

By Gaby Grammeno

A commission has found that a laundry manager sexually harassed one of his workers and discriminated against her because she was a woman. It awarded the woman over $50,000 in damages. She also claimed she’d been victimised, but the commission said the intimidating treatment didn’t amount to victimisation.

Persistent demands for sex

The worker was the sole supporter of her four school-age children. English was her second language. Keen for work, she made several approaches to get a start in a Brisbane laundromat, and was taken on as a casual.

Her duties included washing, hanging and folding clothes and other cleaning tasks. She enjoyed the work and the company of other women who worked there, but the owner/manager soon started pressing her to have sex with him.

She said he repeatedly touched her bottom, breasts and genitals, and sent her text messages demanding sex in exchange for a job. He asked for massages, and even offered her a lawnmower in exchange for sex. She found it unwelcome and intimidating, but he ignored her clear protests. She was worried she’d lose the work if she rejected his advances.

After he promised to ‘behave myself and leave u alone’, he said he may have a ‘proper job’ for her and would let her know, but then he gave the job to someone else.

The claim - harassment and discrimination

At this point she decided to complain. She sought assistance from Queensland Police, who advised her not to return to the workplace due to fears for her safety.

She filed a complaint in the (then) Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland (ADCQ) on 14 December 2018 alleging sexual harassment and direct discrimination on the basis of sex.

The complaint was accepted, and referred to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.

In the commission

The commission’s job was to determine the answers to the questions as to whether or not sexual harassment occurred, whether the worker had been treated less favourably than a man would have been in similar circumstances, and if so, had the substantial reason for the less favourable treatment had been discriminatory.

In addition, the commission had to determine whether the worker had been victimised, according to the legal definition of victimisation.

The manager insisted his physical interactions with the worker were largely initiated by her, and that the texts between the pair were simply ‘banter’, typical of the way they worked together at the laundromat.

The evidence, including numerous text messages, painted a different picture, showing the manager’s escalating and persistent pressure for sex.

The worker felt she had to walk a ‘perilous tightrope’ between protecting herself from the manager’s sexual advances without rebuffing him and risk losing her job, which made going to work very difficult and stressful.

The commission’s conclusions

The industrial commissioner found the worker had been sexually harassed. A reasonable person would have anticipated the possibility that she’d be offended, humiliated or intimidated by his conduct.

The commissioner also found the worker had been discriminated against for being female. The evidence demonstrated that, on the balance of probabilities, she was treated less favourably than she would have been in similar circumstances, but for her gender.

However, the industrial commissioner did not find the worker had been victimised, according to the definition in s130 of Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1991. Under that law, victimisation happens when the harm is done because the perpetrator believes the victim will make allegations or commence proceedings.

In this case, she said it seemed more likely that the manager withheld work from the worker because she rejected his sexual advances and he applied that tactic to leverage her compliance. That approach was ultimately unsuccessful, and the manager gave the ‘proper job’ to someone else.

The industrial commissioner ordered that the business and its owner/manager pay the worker $15,960 for economic loss, $30,000 for general damages, and $5,000 for aggravated damages, as well as the worker’s costs in bringing the proceeding.

The bottom line: Trying to intimidate a worker into having sex by promising them a job then giving the job to someone else when they don’t give in meets the definition of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Read the judgment

Golding v Sippel and The Laundry Chute Pty Ltd [2021] QIRC 074 (9 March 2021)

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