A Reflection of Society’s Expectations for Sexual Harassment Victims

The Full Federal Court of Australia (the “Full Court”) has recently made a landmark decision in Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd [2014] FCAFC 82 (the “Richardson Case”) by awarding an unprecedented amount in compensation for the pain and suffering of a sexual harassment victim in the workplace.

In the preceding Federal Court Hearing, which was before Justice Buchanan in February last year, Ms Richardson, a former employee of the Oracle Corporation Australia (“Oracle”), was awarded damages in the amount of $18,000 after Oracle was found to be vicariously liable for the actions of another employee, Mr Tucker, who made sexual advances and humiliating comments toward her.

On appeal, the Full Court increased Ms Richardson’s compensation to$100,000 after taking the view that $18,000 did not adequately cover the distress suffered by Ms Richardson in light of her treatment by Mr Tucker, nor did it adequately reflect society’s expectations of how sexual harassment victims should be compensated.

Additionally, Ms Richardson was awarded a further $30,000 in economic damages as the Full Court sufficiently established a causal link between Ms Richardson’s treatment by Mr Tucker and her subsequent decision to resign from her position with Oracle in 2010.

This decision is the first case to illustrate that sexual harassment victims in the workplace should receive comparative damages to those received by workplace bullying victims with Justices Kenny, Perram and Besanko finding that the damages originally awarded were “manifestly inadequate” and the compensation should adequately reflect the community’s expectations.

The Richardson Case serves as a timely reminder that employers should not only ensure their workplace policies and procedures for dealing with sexual harassment incidents are appropriate and up to date, but also to ensure that employers are monitoring their staff’s behaviours and maintaining a strict no tolerance approach to behaviour which is harassing, bullying or discriminating in nature.

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