A bartender at a popular Brisbane nightspot has negotiated $20,000 compensation after twice being slapped on the bum by the venue’s owner.
Industrial relations specialists believe the case would have attracted a much larger payout, considering the woman had to seek professional psychological support, but circumstances in her personal life meant that she was unable to continue with the claim.
They warn it is yet another reminder to employers about the seriousness of sexual misconduct in the workplace, and the enormous financial and psychological impact it can have on those involved.
Within a month of starting work at the club, 28 year-old *Michelle says she was walking from behind the bar across the venue past where the owner, a man aged in his 50s, was standing drinking with friends.
It’s then that he reached out and slapped her on the bottom.
According to documents lodged in the Queensland Human Rights Commission (formerly the Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland), the incident left Michelle feeling hurt and humiliated, but she continued working until she finished her shift that night.
A few months later at another function, Michelle, who had been promoted to an assistant manager, says she was walking across the venue with a junior colleague when the owner slapped her and her colleague on the bottom.
Once again she felt offended and humiliated, and made a formal complaint to the general manager the following day.
At a subsequent meeting, the owner apologised, but claimed he had no memory of the incidents because he had been drinking.
Michelle quit her job a few days later, even though she was just a few weeks into a new 12 month contract with the company.
Harassment caused serious psychological damage
A report from a psychologist presented to the Human Rights Commission stated that Michelle was showing symptoms of depression and stress, low mood, anxiety and restlessness, which were related to the way she had been treated.
“It is my belief that the harassment and her subsequent loss of work were fundamental contributors to [Michelle’s] emotional state,” the psychologist wrote.
Case was ‘appalling’
Sexual Harassment Claims took on Michelle’s case and lodged formal applications for sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the Queensland Human Rights Commission.
Industrial relations advocate Christiaan van Oeveren described the case as “appalling”.
“Everybody has the right to go to work without being subject to behaviour which could potentially be sexual assault,” he said.
“The trouble is, when the perpetrator is someone’s manager or supervisor, it can make it extremely difficult for a victim to come forward and make a formal complaint because they fear it could impact their future career.”
Before the case reached a full hearing in the Industrial Relations Commission, Michelle agreed to settle for $20,000 in damages.
“A case like this would normally have cost the employer a lot more, but because of some rare circumstances involving our client, she decided it was in her best interests to settle the matter quickly,” Mr van Oeveren said.
“Make no mistake, if you engage in unlawful sexual harassment and discrimination, it is likely to cost you tens of thousands of dollars.”
* name changed
If you have experienced sexual harassment, you may be entitled to compensation.
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