A laundromat casual employee was recently awarded $160,000 in damages by the Industrial Court of Queensland (the Court) after finding she suffered sexual harassment under her employer.
The award represents the most recent example of the increasing recognition of the very serious effects sexual harassment can have on the health and lives of victims.
The case was brought by Perlita Golding who was employed by Ian Sippel at his company, The Laundry Chute for 14 months, between June 2017 to August 2018. During this period, Mr Sippel sexually harassed Ms Golding including by:
- Touching her bottom;
- Offering her $500 in exchange for sexual intercourse;
- Offering to give her his lawnmower in exchange for sexual intercourse;
- Grabbing her groin and pushing her hand “down the front of his shorts” during a celebration of Ms Golding’s birthday; and
- Regularly propositioning her for sex during working hours.
Mr Sippel was also found to have discriminated against Ms Golding on several occasions during her employment. This included increasing her working hours while propositioning her for sex, and sending her home and decreasing her working hours after his advances were rebuffed.
While Mr Sippel denied most of Ms Golding’s allegations., he admitted to a few which he sought to dish as “light hearted” and “just banter”.
Ms Golding’s position was exacerbated by her precarious financial situation, The Court found that “Mr Sippel knew that Ms Golding was in a challenging financial position as she had told him that she was the sole provider of her four children after fleeing her physically abusive ex-husband and begged for work”. The effect was that the Court found that Ms Golding had to put up with the harassment.
Ms Golding initially filed a complaint in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC), where she won. The damages awarded by the QIRC were a far-cry from the award she received from the Court – $15,960 for economic loss; $30,000 for general damages; and 5,000 for aggravated damages or a total of $50,960.
Ms Golding appealed the decision to the Court claiming that the amount awarded was “manifestly inadequate”.
Justice Davis upheld the appeal, saying that the QIRC failed to consider the overall damage of Mr Sippel’s “lewd and disgusting behaviour” towards Ms Golding “who had little choice but to work for [him] … because of her financial position.” Justice Davis set aside the QIRC award for economic loss and substituted it with the sum of $28,702.60, and the award for general damages and aggravated damages and substituted these with the sum of $130,000.
In an appeal by Mr Sippel, Justice Davis affirmed his earlier decision and reasoned that “prevailing community standards” must be considered in determining the monetary value of psychological and intangible losses – such as those arising from discrimination. Justice Davis also took guidance from cases in general civil litigation.
Ms Golding’s case sets a record amount of damages of this kind and demonstrates that the Courts are, albeit slowly, recognising the devastating effects of harassment of victims.
If you have been sexually harassed at work, we can provide guidance, advice and representation to ensure the best outcome possible.
Segelov Taylor principal David Taylor is an accredited specialist in employment law. If you have concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace or any other concerns related to employment, please get in touch by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (02) 8880 0500.