The director of a small legal practice has been ordered to pay $100,000 to a mature-aged law graduate in compensation for sexual harassment, after she accused him of a string of aggressive and bizarre sexual advances.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard the business owner allegedly requested sex from the 50-year-old woman 78 times in a single day, and even showed her a video of himself having sex with a prostitute.
The names in the case were kept anonymous by VCAT. The incident is only the latest in strange workplace harassment suits, with the chief executive of retail firm Rivers recently accused of harassment.
VCAT also found the director had secretly filmed encounters between himself and the graduate, who was completing placement for a diploma. She was set to complete 80 days of work, but was sacked after 50.
The Tribunal heard the student was subjected to several instances of sexual harassment, including multiple sexual advances, uninvited sexual comments, including a “reference to going home and fantasising after rejection”.
Over several days, the student accused him of uninvited sexual advances, sexual comments, inappropriate touching, unwelcome massages, and even sending a photo of himself naked. The owner was also accused of playing pornography in the workplace and sending sexual text messages.
Some of the advances are explicit, with the business owner accused of telling her, “Did you know that no other woman has ever frustrated me the way you do? Come and sit on the couch and let me play with you”.
In one shocking incident, the owner was accused of giving the woman a massage and telling her the room was locked so she could not leave.
“Almost every day, he made advances, sought to play with her hair, or say something of a sexual nature, or sought to sleep with her,” the Tribunal heard. “Her case is that she was subjected to sexual harassment of a continuing and extreme form over the fifty days the placement actually lasted.”
The case details several requests for sex the owner made in one night, with the woman repeatedly telling him “no”.
The case was made more complicated by the fact the woman was friends with the owner before starting the placement and began to know her partner.
The owner maintained none of the incidents actually occurred, or that these advances weren’t unwelcome. He also said the woman told him she would fabricate a sexual harassment claim.
Justice Garde said this wasn’t likely, and also criticised him for the argument the woman should have made her objections more clearly.
“If an employer does engage in the sexual harassment of an employee, it is not appropriate to criticise the employee on the basis that she should have handled the sexual harassment better or should have stormed out of the room or escaped from the harasser earlier,” he said.
“It is enough if the respondent’s conduct constitutes sexual harassment under the Act.”
The past few years have seen a number of high-profile sexual harassment cases. More recently, an Oracle employee won $18,000 from a sexual harassment case, while in February, the head of retail chain Rivers was also accused of harassment.