In a landmark case, the Full Court of the Federal Court awarded Ms. Rebecca Richardson significant damages for sexual harassment she experienced in the workplace.
Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd and Tucker  FCAFC 82 – embed link to full ruling on website**
The ruling sent a clear message to employers: the financial penalties for sexual harassment have increased, and it is crucial to have robust policies and procedures in place to prevent sexual harassment and protect their workforce.
The Oracle Case:
Ms. Richardson, a former consulting manager at Oracle Australia Pty Ltd, filed a claim against the company and Mr. Randol Tucker, a male sales representative, for sexual harassment. The court found Mr. Tucker liable for contravening section 28B(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). Oracle was held vicariously liable for Mr. Tucker’s conduct under section 106 of the same Act.
Initially, Justice Buchanan awarded Ms. Richardson $18,000 as general damages. However, on appeal, the Full Court recognized that the previous award did not reflect prevailing community standards.
They increased the damages to $100,000 for general damages and an additional $30,000 for economic loss, citing a causal link between the harassment and Ms. Richardson’s resignation from Oracle.
The Assessment of Damages:
Justice Kenny, who issued a separate judgment, highlighted the need to reassess damages in sexual harassment cases. Traditionally, the accepted range of damages for such cases fell between $12,000 and $20,000.
However, Justice Kenny argued that the courts failed to consider the emotional loss and turmoil suffered by victims of harassment. She noted a societal shift towards recognizing the value of loss of enjoyment of life caused by mental distress.
Justice Kenny referred to cases involving workplace bullying and personal injuries, where higher damages were awarded for pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. This comparison demonstrated that the initial damages awarded to Ms. Richardson were disproportionately low.
Furthermore, the Full Court overturned the earlier decision and allowed compensation for economic loss. They recognised the causal link between Mr. Tucker’s conduct and Ms. Richardson’s decision to leave Oracle. The court assessed the economic loss based on her adjusted salary at a new company compared to her prior earning capacity at Oracle.
Implications for Employers:
The Oracle case signifies a shift in the courts’ approach to assessing damages in sexual discrimination and harassment cases.
Employers need to be aware of the potential for higher damages awards, which are no longer confined to a pre-existing range. The courts now consider the impact on the victim’s enjoyment of life, psychological distress, and pain suffered.
To mitigate the risk of sexual harassment claims and substantial financial penalties, employers must implement clear policies regarding appropriate conduct in the workplace.
These policies should be communicated effectively to all employees and managers, and regular training on preventing harassment should be provided.
“The Oracle case has raised the stakes for employers regarding the financial penalties associated with sexual harassment. The increased damages awarded to Ms. Richardson highlight the courts’ focus on compensating victims for the loss of enjoyment of life and the pain and suffering experienced due to harassment.
Let this case serve as a wake-up call to employers to take proactive measures in preventing sexual harassment and protecting their workforce”. – Trent Petherick, HR Legal Connect
If you would like to speak with our expert team about creating a robust set of policies which foster a safe work environment, please call us on (08) 9535 4604
If you would like to speak with our expert team about an employee making a sexual harassment claim against your organisation, please call us on (08) 9535 4604