HREOC report — big increase in discrimination complaints

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HREOC report — big increase in discrimination complaints

Workplace discrimination relating to pregnancy and sexual harassment have all contributed to a substantial increase in the number of claims received by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) in the last year.

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Workplace discrimination relating to pregnancy and sexual harassment have all contributed to a substantial increase in the number of claims received by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) in the last year.

According to the HREOC 2006/07 annual report, there was a 42% increase in the overall number of complaints from an average 1,250 a year to 1,779 in the last financial year.

As in previous years, employment was the main area of complaint under all federal anti-discrimination legislation - in 2006/07 complaints regarding employment made up 42% of complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act and 81% under the Sex Discrimination Act.

The HREOC report says 19% of complaints alleged sexual harassment (186 claims) a rise of 20% from 2005/06 (155 claims), while 17% of complaints alleged pregnancy discrimination (170), up from 160.

The majority of the overall complaints were lodged by females (54%) — New South Wales was the greatest contributor with 43%, followed by Victoria (20%), Queensland (14%) and South Australia (12%).

GM caught harassing worker
 
Listing examples of the complaints received, the HREOC report says one complainant, who was employed as a receptionist with a real estate company, alleged she was sexually harassed by the general manager of the company.

She claimed the general manager would send her pornographic and sexually suggestive emails and make comments of a sexual nature. The complainant also claimed the general manager put his hand up her skirt and touched her thighs, kissed her and exposed his penis to her.

The general manager denied the allegations. However, he acknowledged that he had sent the complainant e-mails. He claimed that the e-mails were not unwelcome because she was flirtatious in some of her replies. The company claimed the complainant did not raise any allegations during her employment.

The company advised that it has a sexual harassment policy in place and that the policy is discussed at monthly staff meetings.

A conciliation conference was held and the complaint was resolved with the company agreeing to pay the complainant $18,000 compensation.

Discrimination after maternity leave
 
In another example, a worker employed as a planning manager in an advertising agency claimed that while she was on maternity leave, there was a restructure of management positions and when she returned to work, she was advised that her former position had been filled on a permanent basis.

The complainant said she was offered a new position in the same department which was fundamentally different from, and not comparable to, the position she held prior to going on leave.

She alleged that while she kept her job title, she did not maintain any of her management responsibilities. She claimed that this amounted to sex and pregnancy discrimination and constructive dismissal, and she advised that she subsequently accepted a position with another employer.

The complainant also alleged that the work environment at the advertising agency was hostile to working mothers.

The agency denied that it had discriminated against the complainant on the basis of her sex and/or pregnancy and claimed that the work role the complainant returned to after her maternity leave was essentially the same as the role she held before going on leave.

The agency also denied that the work environment was hostile to working mothers.

The parties agreed to resolve the complaint at a conciliation conference with the agency agreeing to pay the complainant $15,000 general damages and $20,000 as a termination payment.

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