Sexual harassment victim Jemma Ewin won a record $500k payout – this case should serve as a wake-up call to employers that sexual harassment claims will be taken seriously by the courts, and that awards of compensation are on the rise.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is an insidious reality. Often perpetuated by people in a position of power over the victim, it cans be incredibly difficult for staff to stand up and challenge this behaviour.
In the employment jurisdiction, as in the criminal context, it is often a case of one person’s word against the other. It can also be difficult for a victim to judge just how bad the behaviour is when it escalates over a period of time.
These factors mean that victims often suffer in silence, and sexual harassment claims seldom reach the courts.
On top of this, victims have to decide whether it is worth bringing a claim. On the one hand, there may be a point of principle and justice; on the other, it is very often the victim’s credibility which is attacked.
Further, awards of compensation claims in sexual harassment cases have been very modest (and that is an understatement) which means that, once the lawyer is paid, there may not be much left for the victim.
Historically there would not appear to be a lot of reason for victims of sexual harassment to put themselves on the line to pursue these claims. Sexual harassment damages have not kept pace with other types of awards, such as for bullying claims where employers have been found to be liable for failing to provide a safe workplace.But, and in part thanks to Jemma Ewin (and her legal team) this may be about to change – at least from a financial (compensation) perspective.
Sexual harassment victim awarded record K500 payout
Sexual harassment victim Jemma Ewin has record $500k payout upheld, criticises Victoria Police
Wed 13 Aug 2014 | ABC News
Jemma Ewin, sexual harassment victim Photo: Jemma Ewin has called for an independent investigation into the handling of her criminal case.
A Melbourne woman who had a record $500,000 payout for sexual harassment upheld has demanded an independent investigation into the handling of her criminal case.
Accountant Jemma Ewin was at a work party in 2009 when she had sex without consent with colleague Claudio Vergara.
A federal court judge found Ms Ewin believed her drink was spiked, but could not find any evidence to support that.
The judge ruled Mr Vergara should have understood “no meant no” and ordered him to contribute to a record sexual harassment payout worth nearly $500,000.
Mr Vergara appealed against the finding, but it was upheld by the full bench of the Federal Court on Tuesday.
Mr Vergara was never charged over the incident.
Mr Vergara was ordered to pay Ms Ewin more than $200,000 in compensation and the remainder of the money was to be paid by her former employer.
Outside the court, Ms Ewin said she was relieved at winning the civil case, but disappointed with the criminal investigation.
“Too often Victoria Police’s response is you must have asked for it, you led him on, perhaps you didn’t look out for yourself well enough,” she said.
“It’s absolutely not true. Sexual assault is an offence and no means no under any circumstances.”
Ms Ewin called for an independent investigation into the handling of her criminal case.
She said police investigated twice and failed to find key evidence.
“I can’t get on with my life until the authorities in Victoria are held to account for their woeful mishandling of my criminal police matter,” she said.
“I’m very pleased with today’s decision. It’s vindicated a very long, five-year fight for justice.
“Unless you’re prepared to sacrifice everything for justice you are pushed aside and told just to forget about it, get on with your life.”
Mr Vergara issued a statement from his lawyers saying he feels “aggrieved” by the judgment.
“I am considering whether to apply for special leave to appeal,” he said.
“Given this it is inappropriate for me to comment at this time.”
ABC News contacted Victoria Police for comment.
Somewhat related articles
- Are you being sexually harassed at work? Take action!
- Courts are willing to award significant compensation to victims of sexual harassment at work