Large increase in awards for sexual harassment

The Full Federal Court in the decision of Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd [2014] FCAFC 82 increased an award of damages to an employee from $18,000 to $130,000 for unlawful sexual harassment on the basis that community standards required higher awards of compensation.

In the initial decision, the trial judge found the employer vicariously liable for its sales representative’s sexual harassment of the employee over several months and awarded the employee $18,000 for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

The employee appealed the trial judge’s decision on a number of grounds. The appeal was successful and Full Federal Court increased the employee’s award for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment in life to $100,000 and also awarded an additional $30,000 for loss of income.

The Full Court accepted that the award of $18,000 for general damages was within the previously accepted range of damages awarded in sexual harassment cases, however, referring to other personal injury cases, observed that ‘’community standards now accord a higher value to compensation for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life than before’’ and the previous award was manifestly inadequate. The Full Court stated that previous awards for sexual harassment had fallen behind the general standards prevailing in the community regarding the monetary value of damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

The Full Court also found that there was a sufficient connection between the sexual harassment and the employee’s decision to resign from her employment and awarded her further $30,000 for loss of income.
So what message should employers take away from this case? It is important that employers implement and also maintain good strategies and policies to prevent workplace discrimination, harassment and bullying.

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