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Court Quadruples $35,000 Awarded To Sexual Harassment Victim

Court quadruples $35,000 awarded to sexual harassment victim

A court has quadrupled the $35,000 in damages originally awarded to a victim of “lewd and disgusting” sexual harassment.

President of the Queensland Industrial Court, Justice Peter Davis, (pictured) described the original compensation as “manifestly inadequate”.

Perlita Golding experienced “lewd and disgusting” sexual harassment and sex discrimination while working at The Laundry Chute.

Court quadruples sexual harassment damages

Earlier in the year, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) heard the case against Ian Sippel – owner of The Laundry Chute in Brisbane.

Perlita Golding, a single mother, commenced working at the outlet in June 2017, desperate for money to support her four children.

Sippel immediately began making unwanted sexual advances to her, in addition to denying her work opportunities when she rejected him.

Commissioner Roslyn McLennan found Sippel required Golding “to walk the perilous tightrope of protecting herself from repeated sexual advances, while also not too abruptly rebuffing Mr Sippel and risking losing her employment.”

The Commission also heard a series of text messages from Sippel caused Golding to fear for her safety – contacting police as a result.

Commissioner McLennan subsequently awarded $30,000 in general and $5,000 in aggravated damages and $15,960.75 for economic loss.

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Conduct ‘extremely serious’

Golding then appealed the decision, and Justice Davis agreed, describing Sippel’s sexual harassment and sex discrimination as “extremely serious”.

“The award of damages is, in my view, manifestly inadequate,” Justice Davis said.

“Over a period of 14 months, he tormented Ms Golding, a woman who had little choice but to work for The Laundry Chute and put up with him because of her financial position.

“It was the reason why she tolerated his lewd and disgusting behaviour.

“On every day she appeared for work, she knew the prospect was that she would be humiliated and demeaned sexually by him.

“That ultimately resulted in a diagnosed anxiety disorder causing her to be unable to work.”

He therefore increased the sum of damages to $130,000 in addition to almost doubling the economic loss to $28,702.

Justice Peter Davis described the original damages amount “manifestly inadequate”.

Upward trend in damages

Meanwhile, employment lawyer Stephen Dryley-Collins said he isn’t surprised by the Industrial Court’s decision to increase the amount of damages.

“Courts have made it clear that they consider sexual harassment extremely serious conduct,” he said.

“In recent years, we have seen courts impose substantial penalties on perpetrators in addition to awarding substantial damages to victims.”

In 2019, the Federal Circuit Court ordered solicitor Owen Hughes to pay a former employee $170,000 following a relentless campaign of sexual harassment.

Hughes v Hill

Mr Dryley-Collins pointed to the case of solicitor Owen Hughes.

Hughes engaged in a relentless campaign of sexual harassment against a former employee in addition to threatening her employment when she rejected his advances.

In 2019, the Federal Circuit Court ordered Hughes to pay the employee $170,000, including $50,000 in aggravated damages.

At the time, Judge Salvatore Vasta said: 

“It is a mark of a bygone era where women, by their mere presence, were responsible for the reprehensible behaviour of men.  The Sex Discrimination Act was enacted to help eliminate this sort of thinking.”

The Full Federal Court eventually dismissed Hughes’ subsequent appeal.

Justice Nye Perram said that he would have awarded even more than the $50,000 aggravated damages.

“The courts have put employers on notice,” Mr Dryley-Collins warned. “If you, or your employees, engage in this sort of unlawful conduct, you will pay – big time.”


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