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Court raises the bar on compensation for sexual harassment and discrimination in Queensland

18 August 2021

#Workplace Relations & Safety

Court raises the bar on compensation for sexual harassment and discrimination in Queensland

On 6 August 2021, the Industrial Court of Queensland set a new precedent for the State by ordering a sexual harasser and his business to pay $130,000 in general and aggravated damages and a further sum for economic loss to his employee after “tormenting”, humiliating and demeaning her for 14 months.

Sexual harassment and discrimination: An “extremely serious” example

The case in Golding v Sippel and The Laundry Chute Pty Ltd [2021] ICQ 14 involved Ms Golding, a casual employee at The Laundry Chute for approximately 14 months. 

Originally from the Philippines, Ms Golding is a survivor of domestic violence and a single mother, receiving no financial support from her former husband and abuser.

Soon after Ms Golding commenced her employment at The Laundry Chute, the owner and manager, Mr Sippel, began sexually harassing and discriminating against her, including:

  • repeatedly touching her bottom, then laughing off her protests
  • offering her $500 in exchange for sexual intercourse, after she offered to massage his sore back for $50
  • offering to give her his lawnmower in exchange for sexual intercourse, after she asked to borrow it
  • sexually assaulting her on her birthday and when she was changing her clothes at work to attend a social outing
  • making increasingly frequent demands for sex, increasing her work hours and regularly propositioning her. When she rebuffed him, he would send her home and withdraw her work hours, despite her telling him she was in a challenging financial position and begging him for work
  • regularly expressing sexual interest in her
  • sending text messages to her when she asked about a vacancy that would provide her with more working hours and therefore improve her family’s financial position. He attempted to take advantage of this vulnerability, and in response to her text messages begging for work, he repeatedly propositioned her in brazen, crass and demeaning language. 

Some of these text messages caused Ms Golding to fear for her safety. She reported Mr Sippel’s behaviour to the police and did not return to the workplace.

As a result, Ms Golding suffered psychological injuries and subsequently received workers’ compensation payments. However, the Commissioner at trial found her medical condition was “not at the highest levels of severity. Her personal resilience seems to have aided her in avoiding or resisting many of the harsher effects which may arise from such conduct. She has continued to engage in courses of study, sought to socialise with friends, engaged with her children, and the like… her intangible losses fall within the moderate range.”

“Manifestly inadequate” damages increased by nearly $100,000

In light of the above findings, the Commissioner ordered Mr Sippel and The Laundry Chute to pay Ms Golding $30,000 in general damages and $5,000 in aggravated damages, following a trial in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.

Ms Golding appealed this decision to the Industrial Court of Queensland, where Justice Davis said that amount was “manifestly inadequate” and increased her compensation to $130,000 – an increase of nearly $100,000 for general and aggravated damages. Ms Golding was also awarded a further sum for economic loss, bringing her total compensation to approximately $160,000.

Justice Davis confirmed the purpose of aggravated damages is to compensate for harm made more serious by how it was done.

In this case, the aggravating factors were that:

  • the harassing and discriminatory conduct spanned an extended period (14 months)
  • Mr Sippel “tormented Ms Golding” by subjecting her to “lewd and disgusting behaviour”, knowing that she had little choice but to put up with him due to her financial position
  • Ms Golding ultimately developed a diagnosed anxiety disorder causing her to be unable to work

Conclusion

The historic award of damages brings Queensland in line with other jurisdictions where, in similar cases cited by Justice Davis in this decision, damages in that vicinity have been awarded for some years.

Authors: Jackie Hamilton & Alice Woods

Disclaimer
The information in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this article is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.

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