'Mother hen' awarded $135 000 for sex discrimination

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'Mother hen' awarded $135 000 for sex discrimination

A female manager at a major bank who was called "mother hen" by her male manager, and whose department was described by him as the "kindergarten" and the "nursery" was awarded $135,000 compensation for sex discrimination.

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A female manager at a major bank who was called "mother hen" by her male manager, and whose department was described by him as the "kindergarten" and the "nursery" was awarded $135,000 compensation for sex discrimination.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found that the discriminatory characterisation of the woman in this way by male managers at the bank was reflected in their attitude towards her work and her prospects at the bank. Their attitudes to the woman resulted in other discriminatory treatment (Dunn-Dyer v ANZ Banking Group Limited [1997] HREOCA 52, No 94/107, 29 August 1997).

Allegations of sex discrimination

The complainant’s allegations of sex discrimination extended to a number of aspects of her employment in the bank. These included that the atmosphere at the bank was hostile to women, the bank did not support her higher studies, and that she was made redundant because of her sex. The female manager said the term "mother hen" was even used when she was being introduced to senior managers at the bank. She found the use of the term demeaning and it indicated that she was not taken seriously.

Commission’s findings

The Commission found that the male manager in question had an "unreasonably negative view" of the complainant’s managerial and other skills because "he characterised her as a woman and based his judgments of her upon characteristics irrelevant to her work but which he identified her as having because she was a woman". The Commission found that the complainant did not have a chance to be judged properly because her managerial ability and performance were down graded by the derogatory references to her as "mother hen".

Another male manager, who the Commission found was strongly influenced by the first male manager, was also found to have discriminated against the complainant on the ground of her sex when he refused to support her Masters studies. Both managers were very negative towards the complainant’s higher study, an attitude which the Commission could only explain in terms of sex discrimination.

Redundancy also based on sex

The Commission found that the decision to restructure the complainant’s department was made by the two male managers in order to get rid of the complainant, and that this was causally related to her sex. The negative view taken of the complainant was related to qualities attributed to her because she was a woman.

Damages were awarded on the basis of $10,000 for emotional upset, and $125,000 for economic loss, which represented just under two years’ salary.

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