Increased Damages in Sexual Harassment Claims

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The Full Federal Court of Australia has significantly increased the potential for damages in sexual harassment claims in the recent decision of Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd [2014] FCAFC 82.

Harassment claims generally have attracted small awards of damages for pain and suffering. The damages have been far lower than the amounts awarded by Courts in other personal injury claims.

In Richardson, the plaintiff was the subject of uninvited sexual advances from a male colleague. At first instance, the Court awarded her damages for pain and suffering of $18,000.

The Full Federal Court found that the general damages awarded by the Trial Judge was “out of step with the general standards prevailing in the community regarding the monetary value of the loss and damage of the kind Ms Richardson sustained”. The Court further held that in harassment cases, Courts should not impose an artificial cap on the damages that may be awarded if that would cause the award to be disproportionate to the injury suffered. The Court went on to award Ms Richardson $100,000 in general damages.

This is a landmark decision. It is expected that Courts will be open to awarding greater amounts for general damages in all types of discrimination and harassment claims.

We are proud to note also that the Full Court cited with approval the decision of the Full Supreme Court in the matter of BHP Billiton v Hamilton, a case that was run and won by Moloney & Partners.

If you have been the victim of harassment or if you are an employer dealing with allegations of harassment, you should contact us for advice.

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