Defence dept ordered to pay $400k over sex assault

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Defence dept ordered to pay $400k over sex assault

A Federal Magistrate has ordered the Defence Department and three employees to pay over $400,000 in damages after a female worker was raped following repeated workplace harassment.

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A Federal Magistrate has ordered the Defence Department and three employees to pay over $400,000 in damages after a female worker was raped following repeated workplace harassment.

The Federal Magistrate’s Court ordered payments of $100,000 in general damages, $232,000 for special damages, $20,259 for past medical expenses, $30,000 for future loss of income and $5,000 for future medical expenses.

Magistrate Connolly also ordered the Department to re-employ the worker ‘in a Department other than in the Department of Defence’.

However, the judge refused to order an apology from those workers involved as they had denied they had sexually harassed, victimised and discriminated against the worker. Connolly said the apology would have ‘required the expression of a sentiment not genuinely felt’.

Background

In March this year, the Federal Magistrates Court found the rape was 'in connection with' the woman's employment because it was done by a work colleague who had repeatedly harassed her at the workplace and was a culmination of that harassment.

The woman, who was employed at a naval base, had also been previously sexually harassed at her workplace by the man, and was victimised by navy officers after making a complaint about him.

The Court found the Navy and three of its officers jointly and severally liable for the harassment and for payment of the damages. The Navy was vicariously liable for the harassment and victimisation.

The woman was not a Navy officer, but worked at the base in an administrative job. The harassment began almost immediately after she started work, and included physical contact in the office and at a training course, receiving requests for sex and pornographic messages from one officer, and displays of pornography in the workplace generally.

Ostracised after complaint

Although the officer who raped the woman was transferred to another workplace, the Navy continued an internal investigation which concluded that no harassment at the workplace had occurred.

After making the complaint, the woman was ostracised from the workplace and intimidated by employees who were friends of the transferred officer, and victimised by managerial staff. The victimisation included unreasonable work demands, unjustified complaints about job performance, and an effort to set her up for eventual dismissal.

Navy ignored own policies

The Navy claimed that it had taken reasonable steps to prevent any harassment occurring, and had followed up the woman's complaint, but the Court found that the Navy had ignored its own policies and codes of conduct, and that its investigation was procedurally unfair.

The woman suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and various other physical, psychological and social problems. She had been unable to resume work since the incidents.

Lee v Smith & Ors (No.2) [2007] FMCA 1092 (6 July 2007)

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