Supreme Court awards $1.3 million to workplace abuse victim

17 December 2015
A Maurice Blackburn client who endured shocking workplace abuse, sexual harassment and bullying has today been awarded $1.3 million in the Victorian Supreme Court.

Kate Mathews was treated appallingly by other employees and subcontractors at civil engineering company Winslow Constructors from August 2008 to July 2010. This included being slapped on the bottom, shown pornographic material and asked ‘Would you do this?’ Some workers also grabbed her and pretended to perform sex acts on her.

On one occasion, a co-worker remarked: ‘Anything that bleeds once a month should be shot’. She was also commonly referred to as ‘useless’, a ‘spastic’ and a ‘bimbo’, and after announcing she was going home to lunch one day, a colleague told Ms Mathews: ‘I am going to follow you home, rip your clothes off and rape you’.

When she complained to superiors, Ms Mathews’ concerns were laughed off or ignored until she eventually ceased working on 1 July 2010 following the rape threat.

Ms Mathews now suffers from serious chronic psychiatric illnesses including Bipolar disorder, port-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe anxiety and depression. She has also developed a jaw injury from grinding her teeth.

Maurice Blackburn argued that Winslow was negligent in failing to provide Ms Mathews with a safe working environment. While the company initially denied liability, they later admitted negligence five days into the civil Supreme Court trial.

In awarding Ms Mathews a total of $1.360 million in damages and for past and future economic loss and for pain and suffering, Justice Terry Forrest criticised Winslow for covertly videoing Ms Mathews on seven separate days between March 2014 and January 2015 to help them contest her claims.

“I consider that real caution must be exercised in any personal injury case where a judge is required to evaluate covertly recorded footage of what are necessarily only fragments of a plaintiff’s life,” Justice Forrest said in his decision handed down today. “The need for caution is heightened in a case where psychiatric injuries are claimed.”

The judge also noted that the evidence was virtually unanimous among medical professionals that Ms Mathews was unlikely to ever work again.

Holly Pinnis, senior associate at Maurice Blackburn, said the case highlighted the serious impact workplace abuse, bullying and sexual harassment had on employees.

“Kate was subject to behaviour no one should ever have to endure. The fact that this happened at her workplace under her employer’s nose makes it all the more shocking,” she said.

“This case puts all employers on notice. If you have an employee being harassed and bullied, you can’t sit on your hands. You've got to take decisive action to make sure your workers are safe. Winslow failed to do that in this case”.

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