Sexual harassment case studies
Sexual harassment in the workplace is an ongoing and increasingly publicised topic. More and more women contact our centre daily to seek advice in relation to the legal avenues that may be available to them to seek a remedy for the unacceptable and intolerable behaviour they have experienced in the workplace.
Once a victim has gained the courage to seek advice on their legal options, the next question that usually follows is how does someone quantify a monetary settlement for the behaviours and conduct that person has been subject to?
The following case studies are based on leading sexual harassment cases. They give a brief summary of the facts by looking at the conduct and behaviours a complainant has experienced, the findings of the court in relation to the said conduct and lastly the rulings and compensation awarded by the courts.
Please note these cases summaries should not be taken as legal advice.
If you require legal advice or are concerned about a matter regarding sexual harassment please call our centre on (08) 84106499.
Hill v Hughes
Ms Hill was awarded $170,000 in compensation for loss and damages.
- Ms Hill was admitted to legal practice in April 2015 and in May 2015 began working with Mr Hughes (Principal Solicitor) of a small legal firm.
- Mr Hughes was physically and emotionally attracted to Ms Hill.
- Ms Hill was involved in an ongoing mediation with her ex-husband. Mr Hughes offered to represent her and she agreed.
- Ms Hill disclosed a lot of personal information to Mr Hughes so he could represent her including details of her relationship with her former husband, her children, past relationships with men and her dealings with an apprehended violence order.
- The night before the mediation, Mr Hughes called Ms Hill and expressed his growing feelings towards her. This made her feel apprehensive and uncomfortable. She said nothing and ignored his comments.
- Mr Hughes had a matter he needed to attend in Sydney for work and asked Hill if she would like to be of assistance and go to Sydney with him on 24 July 2015.
- On 17 July 2015 an email was sent to Ms Hill regarding accommodation in Sydney. Additionally, the email contained several personal comments about his feelings for her. A further three emails were sent that day.
- Ms Hill spoke to Mr Hughes and made it clear the Sydney trip was for work only and did not want a relationship with him.
- Whilst in Sydney Ms Hill went to bed and found Mr Hughes laying on her bed in his underwear and a singlet. She asked him to “please leave” and felt upset and compromised both professionally and personally.
- The next morning when Ms Hill had a shower, she returned to find Mr Hughes again in her room, laying on the mattress in her bedroom and asked him to “get out”.
- Mr Hughes had on several occasions asked to hug her.
- Ms Hill explained she was upset and told Hughes he had acted inappropriately.
- Mr Hughes continued to send several persistent emails through July, August, September and October proclaiming his love for her and expressing that he wanted a future with her.
- In June 2016, Mr Hughes sent an email bringing up Ms Hill’s inability to do her job, used the personal information he obtained when he was acting as a legal representative for her against her and said he could only afford to pay her two days a week.
- Ms Hughes resigned.
- Respondent was dishonest and had been told not to send emails.
- He took grave exploitation of the legal relationship as an advantage over her.
- Mr Hughes saw the trip as an opportunity to begin a sexual relationship, by trying his luck.
- The respondent on several occasions had tried to coerce the applicant to give him a hug. He did this by blocking the exit and making her feel as though she could not decline
- His motivation for being in her room was entirely sexual (see her naked/watch her get dressed).
- He only started to criticise her work and professionalism after he was rejected.
- His emails/conduct were unwelcomed, offensive, humiliating, intimidating and distressing.
- The spoken words, physical conduct and email communications were sexual harassment.
- Conduct was relentless, he took advantage of her vulnerability.
- Threats he made were extremely distressing.
- Harassment was unwanted, persistent and threatening.
- General damages $120,000.
- Threats of job loss were made to stop the applicant from making a complaint.
- Respondents used privileged information he got while acting as her legal representative.
- Mr Hughes said Hill was flirty and encouraged him.
- Aggravated Damages $50,000.
Link to Decision:
Evans v Pasadena Foodland and Crugnale
Ms Evans was awarded $30,000 in damages.
- Ms Evans was working in the supermarket and Mr Crugnale also performed work there. The sexual harassment involved a pattern of inappropriate touching which eventually escalated to sexual assault.
- Mr Crugnale deliberately brushed past behind Ms Evans on three occasions in one day.
- Ms Evans said Mr Crugnale pushed his body up against hers and glided the palm of his hand between her buttocks as he walked past.
- The third time he did this, she said she could feel something hard press up against her, which she thought could have been a belt buckle, or his erection.
- Ms Evans reported the incidents and management reviewed the CCTV footage. They decided they saw “nothing of concern”. The security footage was destroyed two weeks later.
- Mr Crugnale had engaged in the conduct complained of and it was unwelcomed by Ms Evans.
- A reasonable person having regard to all the circumstances would have been offended, humiliated or intimidated.
- His evidence that the touching was accidental was not accepted and his conduct was found to be deliberate and of a sexual nature.
Ms Evans also claimed that Pasadena Foodland had breached its duty of vicarious liability and was responsible for Mr Crugnale’s behaviour because they had failed to appropriately implement/enforce their own sexual harassment policy.
Facts in relation to vicarious liability:
- Ms Evans had asked an assistant store manager to check the security footage because she had been touched inappropriately, in addition to complaining to the HR Manager.
- Neither the HR Manager or Assistant Store Manager took the complaint seriously and neither obtained a statement or record from her.
- When the HR Manager viewed the CCTV footage, he did not observe a clear-cut instance of sexual assault so allowed the footage to be automatically deleted after fourteen days.
- A couple of months after the last incident had occurred, Ms Evans spoke with the café manager who made a further complaint to the duty manager on her behalf.
- The café manager then took it upon herself to investigate the complaint and recorded what was said by both parties.
- It was recommended to the HR Manager that the issue be escalated to a formal investigation and the incident was raised with Mr Crugnale who volunteered to apologize.
- The lack of action and insufficient investigation by Pasadena Foodland resulted in Ms Evans making a complaint to the police.
Pasadena Foodland was found to be vicariously liable for Mr Crugnale’s conduct as they did not take reasonable steps to prevent Mr Cugnale’s behaviour. In was also found that Foodland failed to implement their own sexual harassment policy.
- Ms Evans was entitled to compensation as she had suffered a psychological disorder, harm, suffering and hurt as a result of the sexual harassment.
- Pasadena Foodland and Mr Crugnale were found to be jointly liable.
- Ms Evans made a claim for workers compensation and received money for some of her medical expenses as well as lost earnings.
Link to Decision:
Yelda v Sydney Water Corporation
MS YELDA RECEIVED $200,000 IN COMPENSATION.
- Ms Yelda was employed by Sydney Water and worked with field staff, which consisted of male workers.
- Sydney Water had engaged Vitality Works to create a Safespine campaign for Sydney Water staff.
- Ms Yelda agreed to have her photo taken for the campaign. A male colleague also had his photo taken for the campaign.
- Vitality Works produced a poster of Ms Yelda smiling with her right arm outstretched above her head. She was pointing to the words “Feel great” and “lubricate”.
- Sydney Water printed the posters and displayed them in the Sydney Water Ryde Depot, where it was placed just outside the men’s toilet and the civil delivery lunchroom.
- Ms Yelda saw the poster and sent a complaint via email shortly after.
- The Tribunal found that the words “Feel Great-Lubricate” were big relative to the other words and that as a whole did not immediately suggest the intended meaning of spine safety. Colloquially the poster carried a sexualised connotation and had her image on it.
- The conduct of displaying the poster was conduct of a sexual nature within the meaning of sexual harassment under the relevant legislation.
- Because they chose Ms Yelda and not her male colleague, the court also found that Sydney water had discriminated against Ms Yelda on the ground of her sex.
- Upheld on appeal.
- $100,000 from Sydney Water
- $100,000 from Vitality Works
Link to Decision:
Lee v Smith & Ors
Ms Lee was awarded $100,000 in damages
Please note that this case summary contains content referring to sexual harassment & rape, that survivors and victims of sexual assault may find upsetting.
- Ms Leewas employed by the Department of Defence, which is an entity of the Commonwealth. Two of the perpetrators had more senior positions than Ms Lee.
- Calendars of topless women and computer images containing pornography were readily visible to Ms Leein the workplace.
- Mr Smith typed ‘Austin is a champion in the sack’ on a computer shared by him and Ms Lee.
- Mr Smith wrote his phone number on Ms Lee’s writing pad and when asked why he had done that, Mr Smith replied that if Ms Lee ever wanted to go out with him she should call him.
- Mr Smith told Ms Lee he would like to have sex with her. When Ms Lee rejected, Mr Smith said ‘you will be sorry’ in a threatening voice.
- Ms Lee told Mr Smith that he wanted him to stop making advances towards her as she would continue to reject those advances, and this would cause tension in the workplace.
- Mr Smith said he would continue to “perve” at Ms Lee’s “ass” when she walked past.
- Mr Smith Left a note in Ms Lee’s drawer that said: “.. I think I want Austin sandwiches for lunch... (Happy face symbol) his meat between my two lovely thighs”.
- Mr Smith wrote ‘I just ripped a hole in my jeans… I don’t have underwear on’and ‘I can touch my penis through the hole’ on Ms Lee’s course notes. Miss Lee also observed that his penis was partly poking out of the hole in his jeans.
- Mr Smith approached Ms Lee from behind, lifted the Applicant’s skirt, pushed himself against her and squeezed her buttock.
- Mr Smith also obtained Ms Lee’s number from her personal file in the Resource management section and called her.
- Ms Lee became intoxicated at the dinner and passed out. When she woke up the next day, she was in Mr Smith’s house and he was raping her.
- Mr Smith was found liable for l the sexual harassment leading up to the rape – the rape itself and the harassment following the rape. The employer was also found to be vicariously liable
Links to decision: