Extreme example of workplace sexual harassment at Melbourne law firm set to go to the Australian Human Rights Commission

21 January 2016
Predatory is how Maurice Blackburn’s employment law expert has described the sexual harassment of a Melbourne law firm employee whose boss sent her photos of his erect penis among a continuous stream of unwelcome and sexually explicit text messages.

The woman, who has been diagnosed with stress and anxiety-related medical conditions, was bombarded with inappropriate text messages including repeated requests for sex from her boss over a seven-month period in 2015, phone records show.

She has not returned to work since last year and claims that, in addition to telling her boss directly that his behaviour made her feel uncomfortable, complaints about his conduct to the firm’s practice manager and other principal lawyers were fobbed off.

She claims an apparent lack of workplace policies and training in relation to sexual harassment, discrimination, occupational health and safety and bullying appears to have enabled the inappropriate behaviour to continue. And ignoring him only led to him becoming more abusive.

In addition to sending her multiple naked photos – including several of his erect penis - the text messages included comments such as:

  • I want your body. And I want you to say that you want to f**k me
  • Do you want to f**k me
    I want to f**k you madly
    We need to make this happen
  • Something has to give… I either f**k you or go crazy
  • I’ve known more hot girls than I have had hot dinners. For some reason you make me go ga ga.

She also claims that on one occasion, in front of several colleagues, he threw his phone at her and yelled: “You do what I tell you. I’m your boss. I pay your wages. You don’t tell me what you do and don’t do.”

Josh Bornstein, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers’ employment lawyer, said: “This sort of predatory and relentless behaviour is completely unlawful. It has no place in a law firm, footy club or any other workplace.

The Sex Discrimination Act defines sexual harassment as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours, or any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. It states that conduct constitutes sexual harassment, if it occurs in the circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

“It is also extremely disappointing that the complaints made by our client were not taken seriously or acted upon immediately.”

He said his client was seeking damages, lost earnings and medical expenses and had called for the implementation of extensive equal employment opportunity policies and training at the firm, as well as the creation of a detailed complaints handling procedure.

She will be taking her case to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

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