Women count high cost of going public

DJs sex claim

By Janet Fife-Yeomans    

She put herself up as a champion for women in the workplace but Kristy Fraser-Kirk may have instead scared away victims of office sexual harassment, legal experts said yesterday.

As her record $37 million claim against David Jones and its former CEO Mark McInnes shrunk to a settlement of $850,000, she has been left without a job, an estimated legal bill of at least $300,000 and reluctantly become a household name.

The settlement came at a crucial stage in Ms Fraser-Kirk’s case in the Federal Court. Yesterday was the deadline for her to file expert evidence.

Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and Karen Willis of the Rape Crisis Centre said Ms Fraser-Kirk was brave, strong and had everyone talking about sexual harassment.

However, the massive publicity was the very reason other women would be discouraged, said workplace law expert Gerard Phillips.

“Everyone in the country knows who she is. I don’t think anyone else would want to reveal themselves in the glare of publicity,” said Mr Phillips, a partner at law firm Middletons

He said there were far worse cases of sexual harassment and a lot of professionals would not lodge complaints because it could be bad for their career.

“Do you want your card marked `never to tour again’?” he said.

What started in a blaze of publicity in the Federal Court in August ended with secrecy clauses gagging everyone after a settlement in the Australian Human Rights Commission on Friday, with talks stretching late into Sunday.

Mr McInnes and David Jones had denied claims he was a serial sexual harasser and that the retail giant had breached its duty of care by not protecting Ms Fraser-Kirk, 27.

She will resign from David Jones as a publicist as a condition of the deal and said she would not give her settlement to charity because she had not received punitive damages.

She had promised any punitive damages would be donated to a charity that helped victims of sexual harassment and bullying.

“I had asked the court to award punitive damages, which was to go to charity but as the court will no longer be determining the case, that’s no longer possible,” Ms Fraser-Kirk said.

“This has been a difficult journey but one that I felt was important.

“The case has led to real debate which I am confident will lead to change. That is part of what the punitive damages claim was intended to achieve, and it has.”

Mr McInnes, who quit the retail giant in July, will contribute to the settlement, with David Jones paying the lion’s share.

“It brings to an end a difficult time in many peoples’ lives and hopefully it marks the moment that everyone can begin focusing on the future,” he said.

“I have repeatedly said the vast majority of the allegations are simply untrue and the nature of the court proceedings was an abuse of legal process.”

He said he was looking forward to the birth of his child with partner Lisa Kelly and resuming his career next year.

Court damages

2009

$466,000

2007

$100,000

2006

$3000

2005

$17,536.80

2004

$1000

2002

$16,000

– Previous Federal Court and Federal Magistrates Court payouts in sexual harassment cases

Article from The Daily Telegraph, October  19, 2010.


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