Summary publication

Harsh Realities 2

Workplace Case Studies (2002)

Due to continuous requests for more educative material in the same format as the Harsh Realities (1999) kit of workplace case studies, launched on International Women's Day 1999, it is with pleasure that I present "Harsh Realities 2".

This second set of case studies provides us with a further opportunity to reflect on the real-life experiences of others. While challenging, these case studies impose some pertinent messages on those who believe sex discrimination and sexual harassment are no longer plausible issues.

Each of the case studies has emerged from a conciliated complaint that was lodged under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984. While the names of individuals and organisations have been changed to ensure anonymity and confidentiality, the essential details remain. Most of the inappropriate language documented in the original complaints has been removed, however readers should be mindful that there are some quotes that may still cause offence.

Whether the allegations are about sex discrimination, pregnancy discrimination or sexual harassment, the content is disturbing and the behaviour of some co-workers and superiors could only be described as repugnant.

The vast majority of complaints lodged under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 come from the area of employment. While there is no doubt that people generally believe we all have a right to a safe comfortable working environment, the harsh reality is there remains much work to be done, if we are to achieve this.

I encourage you to read the case studies and to utilise them as training material. This publication is relevant to everyone as we each have a responsibility to work towards eradicating discriminatory inhumane workplace behaviour.

Respect for the individual and the promotion of human rights are paramount if we are to achieve safe comfortable workplaces that foster productive committed employees.

Susan Halliday
Sex Discrimination Commissioner 1998 - 2001


Harsh Realities 2

Note: All names have been changed to ensure anonymity and confidentiality

November 2000.

1. SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN EMPLOYMENT

Ms Young took the matter of Mr Zeeth's inappropriate behaviour to the manager but was told she was not able to be transferred

Three years after Ms Young commenced employment in a semi-skilled role within the hospitality sector, Mr Zeeth was appointed her supervisor. Ms Young alleged that Mr Zeeth subjected her to offensive and degrading comments that included details about his own sex life and preferred sexual positions. He also allegedly made comments about co-workers' breasts.

Ms Young took the matter of Mr Zeeth's inappropriate behaviour to the manager but was told she could not be transferred as there were no other positions available.

Mr Zeeth allegedly continued his harassing behaviour and sexual comments. Ms Young noted there appeared to have been no follow-up by management.

Ms Young complained a second time, to a different manager. She was transferred to another position within an hour. However, two weeks later she was moved back to her original position having been told "it's fixed".

Ms Young alleged that once back in the original role she was completely ostracised. After a referral to the harassment contact officer she was again transferred.

Four months passed without incident, then Ms Young was again told to report back to her original position. Ms Young lodged an official internal complaint and the matter was formally investigated. The internal investigation found that, on the balance of probabilities, Mr Zeeth had sexually harassed Ms Young, but it was deemed by the organisation that, as it could not be entirely certain about what had happened, an administrative warning was more appropriate for Mr Zeeth than disciplinary action.

Ms Young found this outcome unsatisfactory and lodged a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984.

The matter was settled for an amount of $5,000.

2. SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND SEX DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT

she alleged sex discrimination in relation to the investigation process saying she was singled out because of her sex

Ms Morgan alleged Mr Pentecost sexually harassed her at work by making sexual advances towards her. She alleged he kissed her on the lips, grabbed her buttocks, and took it upon himself to massage her shoulders and arms. In addition Mr Pentecost allegedly spread rumours of a sexual nature about Ms Morgan throughout the organisation.

Ms Morgan formalised an internal sexual harassment complaint with her organisation. The organisation responded the following month by stating they could neither prove nor disprove the alleged sexual harassment, and nothing further was done.

Ms Morgan, during the course of her work, became the subject of an internal investigation. She alleged sex discrimination in relation to the investigation process saying she was singled out because of her sex and that men with whom she worked, despite similar behaviour, were not investigated at the same time.

Ms Morgan alleged her employer then attempted to terminate her employment on psychological grounds, claiming that Ms Morgan did not conduct herself in a professional manner citing examples of problems with alcohol consumption, conduct of a sexual nature with co-workers, and failure to follow management directions.

The matter was conciliated for an amount of $10,000 after Ms Morgan lodged a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984.

Ms Morgan also pursued a separate worker's compensation claim.

3. SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN EMPLOYMENT

Mr Hammond, her supervisor, rang her on her company mobile phone ... "I just want to give you something to think about"

Ms Grosso commenced work as a sales representative.

Three months later Ms Grosso alleged Mr Hammond, her supervisor, rang her on her company mobile phone at a hotel in rural Queensland where she was residing while working in the area.

During the conversation Mr Hammond asked Ms Grosso how she was going with her work. He then allegedly went on to speculate about Ms Grosso's physical appearance, commenting on her body in an offensive and suggestive manner.

When Ms Grosso asked Mr Hammond why he was saying such things he replied "I just want to give you something to think about", at which point she replied "is that right" and hung up.

Soon after Mr Hammond allegedly phoned back. When Ms Grosso didn't answer the call, Mr Hammond left a message on her message-bank saying "I didn't mean what I said before. I'm pretty smashed at the moment", but he continued with the taped message, making comments including:

"I can picture what your fanny looks like. I bet it's ******* and ***** and I want to *********."

Ms Grosso resigned three days later.

The complaint was conciliated and settled with a payment of $5,000 to Ms Grosso.

4. SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN EMPLOYMENT

Mr Vassa and Mr West made comments about a piece of telephone equipment in her desk drawer, inferring it was her sex toy

Ms Temboli worked for a cleaning company. Mr Vassa was the nominated harassment contact officer and branch manager. Mr West was a co-worker of both Ms Temboli and Mr Vassa.

Ms Temboli alleged she suffered sexual harassment and sex discrimination in employment and lodged a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984.

She alleged sexual harassment by Mr Vassa included:

  • Mr Vassa making indecent gestures at her, showing her an advertisement aimed at lesbians, and saying "I nearly grabbed a handful of a***" when he dropped a piece of paper behind her.

She alleged sexual harassment by Mr West included:

  • Mr West stating publicly that she was having an affair with a co-worker, Mr West standing in positions where he could look down her blouse and brushing past her breast with his elbow.

Ms Temboli also alleged Mr Vassa and Mr West made comments about a piece of telephone equipment in her desk drawer, inferring it was her sex toy.

The complaint was conciliated. Ms Temboli received a payment of $8,000, a statement of service and an apology.

5. SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN EMPLOYMENT

She alleged the sexual harassment continued with Mr Kingsley grabbing at her and... pulling at her underwear

Ms Jing worked as a sales representative.

Her co-worker, Mr Kingsley, allegedly became very familiar with her a few weeks after Ms Jing commenced work. Ms Jing alleged Mr Kingsley discussed matters of a very personal and sexual nature. She alleged the sexual harassment continued with Mr Kingsley grabbing at her, and on one occasion pulling at her underwear while she was travelling in a car with him. Mr Kingsley also allegedly asked questions about Ms Jing's sex life and exposed his genitals to her while working back one night.

Ms Jing claimed that she was unable to return to work after these incidents. Ms Jing sought external legal advice, proceeded to hand in her resignation, and lodged a complaint of sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984.

The complaint was conciliated with a payment of $3,500 to Ms Jing.

6. SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN EMPLOYMENT

He alleged that his co-worker Mr Standton sexually harassed him

Mr Ross was employed in the IT industry. He alleged that his co-worker Mr Standton sexually harassed him with behaviour including:

  • Commenting "You big boy with that G string up your a***", and by proposing anal sex.
     
  • Grabbing Mr Ross's genitals and providing explicit commentary about his personal sexual activities.
     
  • Making graphic sexual suggestions.
     
  • Simulating masturbation while Mr Ross was walking past.

The matter was settled during conciliation with the company making a payment of $3,500 to Mr Ross. The company also paid Mr Ross's legal fees.

When Mr Ross was returned to his original position the company agreed to train his co-workers about the relevant equal employment opportunity issues.

In addition the company undertook to consider possibilities of transferring Mr Standton to another location within two months.

Mr Standton provided Mr Ross with a statement of regret.

7. SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND SEX DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT

A conciliation conference was held and the employer agreed to settle the matter for a payment of $10,000, a reference and a certificate of training

Ms Pappas was employed as a trainee manager in a large supermarket for a period of three months. Ms Pappas alleged she was sexually harassed by two co-workers and a manager. They reportedly asked her "if she would be good in bed", with one of the offending parties stating that he would drive her home from the work Christmas party if she had oral sex with him.

Ms Pappas also alleged that she was discriminated against on the basis of her sex because she was not given the same opportunities as male trainees. She claimed that when she raised the matter, she was treated less favourably, and not assisted at all with finding other internal positions.

Ms Pappas took leave without pay and lodged a complaint of sexual harassment and sex discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984.

A conciliation conference was held and the employer agreed to settle the matter for a payment of $10,000, a reference and a certificate of training. Ms Pappas was also granted access to her personnel file and was assured there would be no disparaging entry.

8. SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN EDUCATION

the teacher, Mr Ridgeway, sexually harassed her during classes

Ms Wheelan having enrolled in a photography course at a community college, alleged that the teacher, Mr Ridgeway, sexually harassed her during classes.

Ms Wheelan claimed that she brought this matter to the attention of the college on a number of occasions but that her complaint was repeatedly ignored.

Dissatisfied with the lack of response, Ms Wheelan lodged a formal complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984.

The college and Mr Ridgeway both provided written responses to the complaint. The college in its response stated that Mr Ridgeway was no longer an employee and that it had sought to strengthen the college code of ethics as a result of the formal complaint lodged under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984. The college provided Ms Wheelan with a course refund and a gift voucher.

Ms Wheelan was satisfied with the response and the action taken by the college.

9. SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE PROVISION OF GOODS AND SERVICES

Ms Long alleged that her general practitioner sexually harassed her in his surgery

Ms Long alleged that her general practitioner sexually harassed her in his surgery over a twelve month period and lodged a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984.

Ms Long would make an appointment with Dr Meekle every month to obtain a new prescription for her condition. During these appointments Ms Long alleged Dr Meekle would undertake an inappropriate physical examination of Ms Long's breasts and pubic area.

Ms Long claimed that Dr Meekle did not provide her with an explanation as to why these physical examinations were necessary or how they were related to her condition. No further tests were ever conducted.

The matter was conciliated with Dr Meekle paying Ms Long $25,000. Ms Long also made complaints to relevant professional organisations.

10. PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT

another person had been placed in her original position and she was not offered a position of comparable status

Ms Neerim was employed by a large finance company.

Prior to, and during her maternity leave, Ms Neerim had an expectation that she would return to work on a part-time basis. This expectation was based on the experiences of other staff and the fact that there had been no information provided to the contrary.

However Ms Neerim, while on maternity leave, was told by her employer that she was required to return to work on a full-time basis when her maternity leave concluded. Her employer qualified his decision with a statement that significant restructuring had taken place while she was on maternity leave.

Ms Neerim lodged a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984 alleging that another person had been placed in her original position and she was not offered a position of comparable status on her return.

The matter was conciliated with the parties entering a private agreement and Ms Neerim was paid an undisclosed severance payment.

11. PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT

her employment was terminated while she was on maternity leave

Ms Hartman worked for a large multinational organisation in the food industry.

Ms Hartman alleged that her employment was terminated while she was on maternity leave. She proceeded to lodge a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984 on the ground of pregnancy.

Ms Hartman's employer then advised her that she could be reinstated if she wished. Ms Hartman decided not to return.

The complaint lodged under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984 was conciliated with Ms Hartman's employer, by way of settlement, releasing Ms Hartman from any obligation to repay six weeks paid maternity leave, as well as other monies that had been paid to her in error while she was on maternity leave.

12. PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT

she was pressured in various ways to resign

Ms Frank alleged that her employer, the owner of a specialist retail store, discriminated against her on the basis of her pregnancy.

Ms Frank commenced work on a casual basis at the store in September. During the following February Ms Frank informed her employer that she was pregnant and experiencing morning sickness.

Ms Frank claimed that from that point onwards she was pressured in various ways to resign, but refused to do so. Ms Frank's employment was terminated in March.

Ms Frank lodged a complaint of pregnancy discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984. The complaint was settled by conciliation with Ms Frank receiving a payment of $2,000 and an apology.

13. PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION IN EDUCATION

the exam was scheduled for the same day she was due to give birth to her child

Ms Quincy, while pregnant, enrolled in a Diploma course at an educational institution.

Ms Quincy lodged a complaint of pregnancy discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984 alleging that the educational institution would not allow her to take an exam slightly earlier than it was scheduled for the rest of the class. She had requested an earlier exam as the exam was scheduled for the same day she was due to give birth to her child.

Ms Quincy alleged that if she had to extend her study for a further semester (as was proposed by the educational institution) in order to sit the exam at the same time as other students, then she would lose credit for the semester's work she had just completed, and suffer financial disadvantage.

The complaint was settled informally. The institution agreed to extend the five-year period for the completion of the Diploma without the need for Ms Quincy to either roll-over subjects or to defer enrolment.

The institution also agreed to carry over the full course fee and waive the normal $50 administration charge.

14. PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT

Mr Chang dictated a letter to her that stated that her employment was terminated, and directed her to sign the letter

Ms Bentan, who worked as a receptionist for a small service company, advised her manager Mr Chang that she was pregnant. She alleged that Mr Chang then said to her "Do you want some free advice.I suggest you have an abortion".

Mr Chang then recounted an incident regarding a relationship he once had, which led to the woman having an abortion. He offered Ms Bentan time off work to have an abortion and to recover physically and mentally.

The following day Mr Chang allegedly informed Ms Bentan that her position was being advertised in the newspaper.

Ms Bentan alleged that later that week Mr Chang asked her what she had decided to do regarding her pregnancy. She told him that she was not having an abortion. Mr Chang allegedly then said "You know that you'll have to resign".

Ms Bentan told Mr Chang she refused to resign. She claimed later in the day Mr Chang dictated a letter to her that stated that her employment was being terminated and directed her to sign the letter.

The letter stated that Ms Bentan's employment was terminated during her three-month probationary period "due to the vast distances" she had to travel to work and that she was "finding it difficult to attend to her duties during business hours". Ms Bentan denied that this was the case and lodged a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984.

The matter was settled by conciliation with a payment of $2,250, a written reference, a letter of regret, and a promise of future employment.

15. SEX DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT

her salary package was less than that of male employees in equivalent positions

Ms Dunlop was employed in 1986, and by 1997 had been promoted to the position of group auditor.

Ms Dunlop alleged that a new supervisor was appointed as her manager in 1997 and he began treating her differently to the male employees working in the same type of position.

Ms Dunlop stated that she was over-scrutinized and excluded from group events and generally treated less favourably. She claimed that her salary package was less than that of male employees in equivalent positions. She also claimed that she was excluded from doing overseas audits because of her sex.

Ms Dunlop complained to management about each of these issues. She stated that the way she was treated at work then became worse. While still in her role, Ms Dunlop lodged a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) 1984.

Ms Dunlop's position was then made redundant, and she claimed she was denied a redundancy payment because she refused to sign a waiver withdrawing any action against the company.

In the circumstances an immediate conciliation conference was organised in an attempt to settle the matter expeditiously. Prior to the conciliation however, the parties settled with a payment of over $130,000 being made to Ms Dunlop.

16. PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN EMPLOYMENT

Mr Reece had taken a Polaroid photograph of her buttocks and showed it to co-workers whilst making comments about her

Ms Hall, a casual employee with a large government organisation, alleged that during her pregnancy her supervisor Mr Reece made daily remarks about her physical appearance as well as other comments of a sexual nature.

Ms Hall made a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) against her employer, alleging vicarious liability for Mr Reece's actions. Ms Hall's complaint of pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment alleged Mr Reece had:

  • commented that male co-workers fathered her child
     
  • asked questions about whether she was having an affair with a particular male co-worker and specific questions about his penis
     
  • commented about what her husband might say if she gave birth to a baby with a different skin colour
     
  • commented about her physical appearance and more specifically about her buttocks and weight
     
  • taken a Polaroid photograph of her buttocks and showed it to co-workers whilst making comments about her.

A conciliation conference was held and the complaint was settled with:

  • a payment of $2000 to Ms Hall
     
  • an assessment of Ms Hall's skills and consideration being given to her being placed in another role in a different section of the organisation
     
  • the employer agreeing to review internal procedures for discrimination and harassment complaints
     
  • the employer arranging for Mr Reece to be trained about sexual harassment and sex discrimination laws and procedures.

Ms Hall was re-assigned to another role within the organisation.

17. SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN EMPLOYMENT

Mr Thompson allegedly apologised to his employees, stating that he had a problem

Six women who were employed at a small general store, lodged complaints alleging that Mr Thompson, who ran the business, had sexually harassed them. The alleged behaviour detailed in the six separate complaints included:

  • Mr Thompson exposing his genitals to his employees
     
  • Mr Thompson loitering outside the toilet and watching the women through a gap in the door
     
  • Mr Thompson masturbating in his office
     
  • Mr Thompson staring at his employees in a manner that made them feel particularly uncomfortable.

Four of the six employees reported the incidents to Mr Thompson's wife and claimed that she undertook to deal with the matter. On the next day, Mr Thompson allegedly apologised to his employees, stating that he had a problem.

While the six women made separate complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) they requested that their complaints be dealt with simultaneously.

A conciliation conference was held between Mr Thompson and the six complainants. The matters were settled with a payment to each complainant, which ranged from $4,300 to $12,300 plus an apology from Mr Thompson.


You can also view Harsh Realities, the first set of case studies focussing on complaints lodged under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 which was released on International Women's Day 1999.