A creepy lawyer who threatened a staff member when she refused his sexual advances tried to argue his inappropriate conduct was caused by a quit-smoking drug.
Owen Hughes, principal solicitor at Beesley and Hughes, located in Northern New South Wales, told the Federal Circuit Court that he lost control of his emotions on two days in October 2015, because he was taking the drug Champix.
‘Do you understand how ridiculous what you have just said sounds?’
Judge Salvatore Vasta, who would go on to award record damages against Hughes, laughed at the suggestion.
“Do you understand how ridiculous what you have just said sounds Mr Hughes?” Judge Vasta asked him, suggesting that if it were true, then Champix “would be a wonder drug”.
“It affects your mood and affects it very quickly, it’s not something that I should ever have taken,” Mr Hughes replied.
Later he told the court that Champix had magnified his “heartstruck” feelings “ten-fold”.
Catherine Hill took legal action against Hughes for subjecting her to a campaign of “relentless” sexual harassment, including bombarding her with emails, and threatening her job if she did not agree to a sexual relationship with him.
She once walked into her bedroom at a home where the pair were staying on an overnight work trip, to find Hughes standing there, wearing just a singlet and boxer shorts.
She told the court she felt “intimidated or threatened” by Hughes and made it clear that she wasn’t interested in a relationship with him.
One email Hughes sent Ms Hill was titled: “Expressing my feelings is not harassment”.
“If you and I were together we would change the world” and “we are dynamite together,” he wrote.
In another he said, “I am a wild and passionate man so you will be justly rewarded.”
Judge Vasta was appalled by the case, and awarded Ms Hill $170,000 in damages, including a record $50,000 in aggravated damages.
“It is the mark of a bygone era where women, by their mere presence, were responsible for the reprehensible behaviour of men,” Judge Vasta said.
Eye watering payout
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Discrimination Claims, described the compensation payout as “eye watering”.
“In a case like this, you would normally expect to see the victim awarded around $70,000 for general damages, and no additional awarding of aggravated damages,” he said.
“So the fact that Judge Vasta has ordered such a huge sum of money, without any economic loss, is extraordinary and shows that the court will severely punish anyone who engages in persistent sexual harassment.
“The lesson is simple – when it comes to sex and sexual behaviour in the workplace, keep your hands to yourself, and when someone says they’re not interested, then they are clearly not interested – so don’t keep sending emails, text messages or flowers, because it could end up costing you a fortune.”
If you have experienced sexual harassment or sex discrimination, you may be entitled to compensation.
Please call our specialist team at Discrimination Claims today on
1300 853 837
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