IN BRIEF - GLS V PLP (HUMAN RIGHTS)  VCAT
A recent matter before the Victorian Civil and Administrative
Tribunal (VCAT) has resulted in a large award of damages to a
female graduate lawyer who was sexually harassed during her
practical legal training placement.
VCAT suppressed the identities of the parties, referring to the
lawyer as Ms GLS and the employer as Mr PLP. GLS had commenced her
practical legal training placement with PLP in May 2011 and the
sexual harassment started soon after.
GLS alleged 14 incidents of sexual harassment throughout the
period of employment, these included: that PLP had repeatedly
propositioned her for sex, made persistent sexual comments and
advances, engaged in unwelcome massage and touching, showed her a
pornographic video of himself having sex with a prostitute, ogled
her breasts, attempted to sexually touch her, and had sent her a
photo of himself naked.
The harassment culminated in PLP assaulting GLS in a car park in
July 2011 and summarily dismissing her shortly thereafter. After
GLS lodged her VCAT sexual harassment application, PLP attempted to
block her admission as a lawyer claiming that she was not a fit and
Was GLS an Employee?
The first threshold issue was whether GLS was an employee and thus
protected by the former Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (VIC)
from sexual harassment.
Justice Garde concluded GLS was an employee because she was paid
firstly $50 then $100 per day to work with PLP. Her considerable
industry experience meant she was value adding to the firm and PLP
summarily dismissed her thereby showing he viewed her as an
employee. Furthermore, her work was supervised by PLP and she was
put forward to clients as working at the firm.
PLP gave evidence that at times the advances were welcomed and that
some alleged behaviour did not occur. PLP had set up and used video
and audio recording devices in his office and such recordings were
used as evidence in the matter. Justice Garde disapproved of these
actions citing PLP's standing as a lawyer and the consequences
if GLS had at some point consented to any of the requested sexual
conduct, i.e. that PLP would have recorded the conduct without her
permission for his own private viewing later.
Justice Garde found the examples of sexual harassment included
conversations secretly recorded by PLP which showed he
"hounded and pressured" GLS for sex and sexual
favours. His Honour accepted GLS's evidence as to her reaction
to the advances and requests of PLP. Further the video and audio
evidence supported her evidence that the conduct was not accepted.
Justice Garde accepted that 11 out of the 14 alleged incidents were
His Honour rejected PLP's claim that GLS could have refused
his physical groping and requests for sex with more force and at an
earlier time. Justice Garde said the obligations of employers were
If an employer does engage in the sexual harassment of an
employee, it is not appropriate to criticise [the employee] on the
basis that she should have handled the sexual harassment better or
should have stormed out of the room or escaped from the harasser
earlier. It is enough if the [principal's] conduct constitutes
sexual harassment under the Act,
Furthermore, GLS was in a difficult situation as she was
dependent on PLP to sign off on her practical legal training
placement and she was good friends with PLP's partner.
Evidence was taken from two psychologists who considered GLS was
suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and that the causes
included; the sexual harassment, incident in the car park, an
incident where PLP tried to grab GLS's breasts and the fact
that she was not practising as a lawyer. His Honour concluded,
Her social and occupational functioning is impaired. She
suffers from embarrassment, revulsion, guilt, social withdrawal,
sleep disturbance and increased appetite.
On the basis of this evidence Justice Garde ordered PLP pay
$100,000 in damages to GLS.
Long experience representing many of Australia's leading employers has taught us that in employment litigation the identity of an employee's representative is a major factor in how employee litigation runs.
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