Sexual Harassment - a big issue

AUSTRALIA'S biggest sexual harassment case

AUSTRALIA'S biggest sexual harassment case - Kristy Fraser-Kirk versus David Jones – appears to have inspired other victims to take on their harassers.

The Human Rights Commission reports such cases are up 50 per cent since 2009 and now take up a third of all complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act,
The commission has revealed that from July to December last year sexual harassment accounted for more than 30 per cent of all complaints. During the 2009 financial year such cases made up only 20 per cent of complaints.

If complaints continue at the current level, the commission will receive more than 300 for the financial year - 100 more than last year.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, said a review of the complaints coming into the commission shows that figures debunked the claim by some commentators in the media that the case would discourage other women from coming forward. The issue on boardroom agendas nationally, meant that it was being discussed in workplaces and by women across the country. It has made women more aware of sexual harassment laws and their rights.

The firm that represented Ms Fraser-Kirk - Harmers Workplace Lawyers - and other big Sydney law firms said they had experienced a significant rise in sexual harassment claims, with many clients referring specifically to Ms Fraser-Kirk.

Many law firms and Ms Broderick said they believed more victims were likely to follow Ms Fraser-Kirk's example by claiming for punitive damages - and compensation. ''It is interesting to see in another high-profile case … that punitive damages were once again claimed,'' Ms Broderick said in a speech to a gender equity summit last week. ''I have no doubt that the manner in which these claims are pleaded in the future will change.''

The chairman of Harmers, Michael Harmer, said ''There have been a number of recent matters that have settled in the millions. It has definitely brought an escalation in their size. The case had also put pressure on companies to increase the amount they were willing to pay to settle sexual harassment cases out of court” he said.

Ms Fraser-Kirk's case against David Jones and its former chief executive, Mark McInnes, was settled out of court, with a reported payment of $850,000.

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