Australia Australian Federal Police settle sexual harassment claim for $1.25m

12:03  02 august  2021
12:03  02 august  2021 Source:   brisbanetimes.com.au

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A judge has allowed a former Australian Federal Police officer to keep her workers' compensation payments on top of a $1.25 million settlement over allegations her supervisor said he'd reward any colleague who could work out if her breasts were real, and showed her explicit images on his iPhone.

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The woman, who The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have chosen not to name, alleged the sergeant rubbed himself against her, made repeated comments about her breasts and professionally undermined her in harassment so severe it destroyed her happiness, relationship and career.

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The woman, who had worked at Sydney International Airport, made a worker's compensation claim in 2014 over the allegations dating back to the year before, which resulted in payments worth $677,363.

But in 2018 she made an additional discrimination claim to the Human Rights Commission against the AFP and four officers. The AFP settled in September last year for $1.25 million without admitting liability.

Comcare, which manages workers compensation claims against the government, went to court in the wake of the AFP's decision to settle arguing the legislation allowed it to claim back payments it had already given to the woman.

Legislation prevents workers from "double dipping" by claiming both workers compensation and then suing the government for the same workplace injury.

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However, Federal Court Justice Steven Rares found the settlement encompassed a much broader range of claims than the initial compensation paid to the woman and "was, like the Sphinx, inscrutable as to how it was calculated". That meant the woman could not be forced to repay any portion.

"In a real sense the conduct complained of can be seen, if proved, as having driven [the woman] from being able to pursue her career and ... ruined her life," Justice Rares said in a judgment last month that contained the allegations.

As well as the superior's behaviour, the woman said three other officers discriminated against her by mocking and socially isolating her. She tried to transfer out but was blocked several times before being moved in early 2014.

Justice Rares did not make any findings of whether the woman's claims were true or not but noted her testimony about how she had been hurt by the alleged harassment.

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Before transferring to the airport unit in 2013, the woman said she was so fit she was training for a half marathon and had loved working with the police since 2006.

After the harassment that year, medical evidence said the woman was "extremely traumatised" and "continued to suffer from severe depression, anxiety, panic, traumatic stress and dependence on alcohol". It was so severe that she was never likely to be able to work again in jobs she was qualified for, the expert concluded, and her partner left her.

In her initial claim, the woman asked for an apology from the AFP, an investigation into harassment at the airport, a better process to stop similar discrimination from happening again and disciplinary action as well as money.

An AFP spokeswoman said the matter had been resolved through confidential mediation conducted via the Australian Human Rights Commission, where the woman had made a complaint.

"As this matter is finalised, it is not appropriate to provide further comments on the specifics of this case," the spokeswoman said.

She added the AFP takes allegations of workplace bullying and harassment seriously, had adopted the recommendations of a report on its culture toward women and in March this year, and appointed assistant commissioner Justine Gough as a "champion of women".

She is charged with promoting a culture that "advances the rights of women, and where our staff feel safe, connected and respected," the spokeswoman said.

The woman's lawyers declined to comment. A Comcare spokeswoman said it was reviewing the decision and otherwise declined to comment, citing a policy of not commenting on individual workers compensation claims.

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accused of sexual harassment, the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation .
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