Sexual Harassment: Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd
A Full Bench of the Federal Court of Australia increased damages awarded to a victim of sexual harassment.
A Full Bench of the Federal Court of Australia has found a general damages award of $18,000 to a victim of sexual harassment to be manifestly inadequate and awarded $100,000.
The Full Bench also awarded Ms Richardson $30,000 for economic loss.
Ms Rebecca Richardson had suffered an adjustment disorder with mixed features of anxiety and depression after experiencing humiliating slurs and sexual advances from her co-worker Mr Tucker. The two employees worked together in Melbourne as part of a bid team to secure a project, during which there emerged a “repeated pattern” and “systematic course of conduct” of sexual harassment.
The company was found to be liable as a result of Mr Tucker’s unlawful conduct. The unlawful conduct was found to have diminished Ms Richardson’s sexual relationship with her existing partner. Evidence from Ms Richardson and her existing partner was reliable and credible in demonstrating that a “variety of factors” affected the sexual relationship, one of which was the unlawful conduct of Mr Tucker.
The judge at first instances has award $18,000 general damages to Ms Richardson and had referred in his decision to the general range of awards in past decisions. The Court found that $18,000 could not be fairly viewed as reasonable compensation for Ms Richardson’s psychological injury, as recent case law has awarded general damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. In support of this decision, the Court determined that it was dangerous to depend on a general range of general damages award in sex discrimination and sexual harassment cases, especially when the community now places a higher value on compensation for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
The Court referred to modern cases of personal injury, workplace bullying and harassment to demonstrate how awards of damages accord a substantial value on pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. Judge Besanko commented on how an award falling within the general range for sexual harassment cases may be manifestly inadequate as compensatory damages:
“Even this cursory overview of the quantum of awards historically awarded in these other fields to successful claimants in situations not wholly unlike Ms Richardson’s reveals a substantial disparity between the level of those awards and the typical compensatory damages provided to victims of sexual discrimination and harassment. Such disparity bespeaks the fact that today an award for sexual harassment, though within the accepted range for such cases, may be manifestly inadequate as compensation for the damage suffered by the victim, judged by reference to prevailing community standards.”
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