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Not-for-profit manager discourages report of sexual harassment

A manager for a not-for-profit organisation, which provides disability employment services, allegedly told a female worker who was placed on a level-crossing removal project that if she lodged a sexual harassment complaint, she would be “putting the whole disability project at risk”.

In XVC v Joanne Baronessa (Human Rights) (2018) VCAT 1492 (3 October 2018), a disabled worker claimed that a former divisional manager of Melbourne-based Marriott Support Services had made comments to this effect, when the worker reported she had been sexually harassed on her job placement.

The former manager denied saying anything like this and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Senior Member Bernadette Steele noted that while the worker was sure this occurred, “there was no other evidence … to decide which account was correct” and she couldn’t “find that Ms Baronessa said those words.”

Worker was told to expect unwanted attention in a ‘man’s environment’

Senior Member Steele did however find that the divisional manager said words to the effect of “You are working in a man’s working environment and you need to expect that kind of unwanted attention” and “You look tired maybe you are perceiving it wrong. Maybe you are being oversensitive”.

This was in response to the worker reporting that another worker on the same project (employed by a different company) told her “I own a gun and I admire the killer and rapist from Wolf Creek” and “I own excavation equipment … it would be easy for me to bury a body in my back yard” and that “You are not employed on your merit only employed because of your sex and your disability”.

The worker also reported he made other comments to her and in her presence about female pedestrians passing by: “I could ride that all the way home” and “Oh yeah, it’s a hard job, it’s a hard job all day long if you get what I mean”.

In the hearing, the worker said that a number of other personnel, who mainly worked for the same company as the harasser, had encouraged her to make a formal complaint about him, in his presence.

Only one very minor step had been taken by the employer

These reports were initially made to another Marriott manager, who was her immediate manager at the time. He claimed that he could only recollect the worker’s concern that the worker she mentioned owned a gun.

He said that the she had told him she wanted to remain anonymous, rather than make a formal complaint, which he accepted.

Following their telephone conversation, he emailed a contact who was involved in managing the level-crossing removal project, mentioning of “a concerning situation” about “inappropriate comments” which he asked him to “look into” as he had “no option but to follow this accusation up as part of … bullying and harassment policies and procedures”.

The manager said that he had spent 40 minutes on the phone with the worker, but as he was attending a training course that day, he suggested that she should then speak with the divisional manager.

Details were denied and apparently window dressed for the hearing

Four days later, the worker met with the divisional manager and told her about “all the sexual remarks [the worker] had made” and the way she had been treated by him.

The divisional manager claimed in the hearing that the worker had mentioned some “derogatory” comments that he made about women who walked past the site, but was not given detail.

She also said that she was only told the male worker reminded her of the character from “Wolf Creek” and denied she had been told of excavation equipment he could use to bury a body in his backyard.

Senior Member Steele rejected this as the worker’s comments were so brief, further noting an email the divisional manager sent to the other Marriott manager after the meeting which spoke of “disgusting” rather than “derogatory” comments.

Steele said that she “preferred” the worker’s evidence that she did report detail of the comments to the divisional manager.

Worker was offered no support and the complaint was not documented

Also in the meeting with divisional manager, the worker informed her that the perpetrator had been stood down from the site by his employer, as they had been informed of what she reported.

This wasn’t disputed and “should have indicated to the [divisional manager] that others were treating the allegations seriously”.

The worker said that the divisional manager offered her no support, nor did she offer to document the complaint and in fact, actively discouraged her from doing so.

Senior Member Steele said that being told to expect “unwanted attention” treated the worker unfairly because of her sex, and that combined with “the lack of any formal registration of the complaint” suggested that as she is female “she should accept conduct which on its face amounted to sexual harassment”.

Steele was convinced that the divisional manager’s treatment caused “significant hurt, humiliation and upset and made [the worker] anxious and lacking in confidence for a time”.

The worker was awarded $10,000 in damages.

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