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The Federal Circuit Court has ordered a principal solicitor of a law firm to pay a former employee $170,000 for subjecting her to repeated sexual harassment over a period of months.

The solicitor targeted the paralegal with emails containing inappropriate comments, numerous unwelcome sexual advances, and behaviour that she found humiliating and intimidating. The paralegal asked the solicitor to stop and told him on numerous occasions that she was not interested in a sexual relationship with him.

Judge Vasta ordered the solicitor to pay $120,000 in general damages, to compensate the victim for her pain and suffering, plus a further $50,000 in “aggravated damages” for additional harm caused by conduct surrounding the harassment, such as:

  • threatening the paralegal to discourage her from making complaints about his behaviour;
  • using personal information he had gained about her, whilst acting as her legal representative in a mediation with her former husband, for the purpose of “defaming her character and blackening her name” before the Court.

No damages were awarded for economic loss in this case because the former-paralegal had successfully obtained another job.

trend towards higher compensation

In 2014, the Federal Court of Australia delivered a landmark decision, in which it ordered an employer to pay $100,000 to a sexually-harassed employee as compensation for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. This marked a significant increase to compensation awarded in previous sex discrimination and sexual harassment cases, where general damages traditionally hovered between $12,000 and $20,000.

There has been a growing trend in recent years for both State and Federal Courts to award greater compensation to individuals subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Federal Circuit Court’s willingness to award aggravated damages could signal a trend towards even greater judicial recognition of the psychological harm caused to victims of sexual harassment.

The award of aggravated damages in such cases may become increasingly common. In cases where economic damage is also suffered, there is potential for future cases to see the award of monetary figures significantly greater than $170,000.

why employers should take note

This case is a stark reminder of why it is crucial for employers to develop, disseminate and enforce comprehensive workplace policies relating to discrimination, bullying, harassment and other unreasonable workplace behaviour.

Recent judgments on workplace harassment cases have provided insights into how policies that address behaviour in the workplace should be drafted.

It is also important for employers to be aware of their ongoing legal obligations in relation to the health and safety of their workers.

If you want to ensure that your workplace policies adequately protect your business and its employees, or you need assistance responding to complaints of inappropriate behaviour, please contact a member of our Employment, Safety and Migration team.

This article was written by Barney Adams – Associate – and Greta Walters – Law Graduate – in Employment, Safety and Migration.

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sexually harassed employee awarded ‘aggravated damages’

08 November 2019
Barney Adams Greta Walters

The Federal Circuit Court has ordered a principal solicitor of a law firm to pay a former employee $170,000 for subjecting her to repeated sexual harassment over a period of months.

The solicitor targeted the paralegal with emails containing inappropriate comments, numerous unwelcome sexual advances, and behaviour that she found humiliating and intimidating. The paralegal asked the solicitor to stop and told him on numerous occasions that she was not interested in a sexual relationship with him.

Judge Vasta ordered the solicitor to pay $120,000 in general damages, to compensate the victim for her pain and suffering, plus a further $50,000 in “aggravated damages” for additional harm caused by conduct surrounding the harassment, such as:

  • threatening the paralegal to discourage her from making complaints about his behaviour;
  • using personal information he had gained about her, whilst acting as her legal representative in a mediation with her former husband, for the purpose of “defaming her character and blackening her name” before the Court.

No damages were awarded for economic loss in this case because the former-paralegal had successfully obtained another job.

trend towards higher compensation

In 2014, the Federal Court of Australia delivered a landmark decision, in which it ordered an employer to pay $100,000 to a sexually-harassed employee as compensation for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. This marked a significant increase to compensation awarded in previous sex discrimination and sexual harassment cases, where general damages traditionally hovered between $12,000 and $20,000.

There has been a growing trend in recent years for both State and Federal Courts to award greater compensation to individuals subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Federal Circuit Court’s willingness to award aggravated damages could signal a trend towards even greater judicial recognition of the psychological harm caused to victims of sexual harassment.

The award of aggravated damages in such cases may become increasingly common. In cases where economic damage is also suffered, there is potential for future cases to see the award of monetary figures significantly greater than $170,000.

why employers should take note

This case is a stark reminder of why it is crucial for employers to develop, disseminate and enforce comprehensive workplace policies relating to discrimination, bullying, harassment and other unreasonable workplace behaviour.

Recent judgments on workplace harassment cases have provided insights into how policies that address behaviour in the workplace should be drafted.

It is also important for employers to be aware of their ongoing legal obligations in relation to the health and safety of their workers.

If you want to ensure that your workplace policies adequately protect your business and its employees, or you need assistance responding to complaints of inappropriate behaviour, please contact a member of our Employment, Safety and Migration team.

This article was written by Barney Adams – Associate – and Greta Walters – Law Graduate – in Employment, Safety and Migration.