Kate Matthews, a former employee of Winslow Constructions, alleged that throughout her employment, she was subject to abuse, bullying and sexual harassment from fellow employees and contractors.

The alleged conduct included showing her pornographic material and asking her if she’d do it, making sexually explicit comments, calling her names, and commenting on her appearance and anatomy. 

Ms Matthews was reluctant to complain, as one of her supervisors was a perpetrator. When she did complain to one manager, his response was to laugh at her. Eventually, she was moved to a different crew. The conduct ceased. 

Inexplicably however, she was moved back to the offending crew nine months later. The bullying, sexual harassment and abuse resumed, culminating in an incident where an employee threatened to “follow (her) home, rip her clothes off and rape (her)”. 

Ms Matthews, frightened by the threat, complained to the person who she understood was responsible for human resources at Winslow. Later that afternoon, she received a telephone call on her mobile telephone from a private number, during which a male voice called Ms Matthews an extremely unpleasant expletive. Ms Matthews has not worked since. 

Ms Matthews filed a claim in the Supreme Court of Victoria, alleging negligence based on a failure to provide a safe place of work. Winslow initially defended the proceedings, and even claimed contributory negligence. But on day five of the hearing, Winslow changed its tune and admitted negligence. Ouch.

So how did the Court get to $1.3 million? Given the action was pleaded in negligence, the Court can award damages based on past economic loss, future economic loss, and also general damages for pain and suffering. 

The Court accepted that Ms Matthews had suffered, and continued to suffer, serious chronic psychiatric illness as a consequence of the treatment she received. It also found that she was unlikely to be fit to work again, using a retirement age of 65 in its calculations. On top, the Court awarded $380,000 in general damages. 

Are you confident your management team is appropriately dealing with allegations of abuse, bullying and sexual harassment?