An Australian Federal Police officer says that she was discriminated against because she was in a same-sex relationship with another officer.
Detective Sergeant Kathryn Lee Richens (pictured above right) claims that her career was ruined after she and her partner, Emma-Kate McPherson, (pictured above left) were referred to as a “two for one” deal in meetings to decide job postings.
She is seeking compensation in the Federal Court.
Detective Sergeant Richens’ career had gone well since she joined the AFP in 1998.
Her barrister, Mark McKenney said all that changed when she began a same-sex relationship with Senior Constable McPherson in 2013, and tried to move to the same city as her same-sex partner.
“The evidence will reveal that post-relationship… everything changed for the applicant and forms a significant basic for what [she] says is adverse action,” he said.
Detective Sergeant Richens claims that she wasn’t allowed to transfer from Canberra to Brisbane, where her partner worked at the time.
After her transfer application was rejected, Detective Sergeant Richens says she applied for annual leave and long-service leave on various occasions, but all requests were rejected.
She was also denied a new role in counter-terrorism, which was instead given to a colleague.
“The reason for this leave was about spending fundamentally important time with her partner,” Mr McKenney said. “These decisions and issues … caused significant distress.”
Inappropriate comments made at meetings
Mr McKenney alleged that inappropriate comments were made by the powerful AFP committee that made decisions about the placement of officers.
He said one member had asked “is her partner still in the job?” and referred to them as a “two-for-one”.
“There are irrelevancies and matters of derogatory comments made in the decision,” he said.
“Why is the applicant’s partner relevant?”
Seeking compensation for financial losses
Detective Sergeant Richens is seeking compensation for financial losses she says she suffered because she was not able to live in the same city as her partner, including airfares and travel expenses, and the cost of maintaining separate homes in different cities.
She also wants a payment for “hurt, humiliation and injury to feelings” and want to be transferred to become a team leader in counter terrorism.
The court was told that Detective Sergeant Richens had been unable to transfer out of a community policing job at Melbourne Airport to an investigations role.
Sexual harassment rife in AFP
Mr McKenney said he would be using the results of a report into sexual harassment and bullying in the AFP by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.
It found that 46 percent of women had reported experiencing sexual harassment in the past five years, and 66 percent reported being bullied.
Still a ‘boy’s club’
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Discrimination Claims says discrimination based on sexuality or relationship status is unlawful.
“Despite the legislation, unfortunately sexuality discrimination, or discrimination based on someone’s relationship status is still all too common, particularly in organisations like the police, that have long had a reputation of being a boy’s club'”, he said.
“The law is clear – employers cannot treat a worker less favourably than others because they are gay or lesbian, or if they are in a same sex relationship,” he said.
“If someone has experienced this sort of discrimination, they should take action, because no one should have to put up with being treated like that.”
READ MORE: What is discrimination
READ MORE: What is sexual harassment
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