Laundromat owner received significant fines for ongoing sexual harassment
A Brisbane laundromat owner has been ordered to pay a former employee significant penalties for sexual harassment covering an eighteen-month period of employment. In the case before Commissioner McLennan in the Queensland Industrial Commission, significant evidence was provided largely confirming the former employee’s claims that she had suffered a wide range of harassment, which began almost from her commencement of duties with the business.
The former employee, Ms G., was keen for work and approached the laundromat as it was located next to the premises where she undertook cleaning duties. After several approaches, she was offered casual work by the owner and manager. She claimed that the manager continuously harassed her throughout her employment, leaving her no choice but to resign.
Ms G. commenced action by filing a complaint in the (then) Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland (ACDQ) on 14 December 2018 alleging sexual harassment and direct discrimination on the basis of sex. Commissioner McLennan took note of the significant power imbalance between the owner and the complainant, pursuant to s120 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (the Act). She highlighted that the complainant was significantly younger, spoke English as a second language, had previously been subjected to domestic violence, and was the sole financial provider for her four young children and was forced to subsist on insecure and low paid work at the laundromat.
Commissioner McLennan accepted the complainant’s version of events on the majority of claims and found the following to be substantiated:
That the manager often touched her bottom, without invitation;
That he offered her money on several occasions to engage in sex with him;
That he touched her breast, without invitation
That he rubbed her groin area, grabbed her hand, wrapped it around his penis and then masturbated himself;
When she refused his sexual advances, he ejected her from the laundromat and reduced her shifts.
Commissioner McLennan placed significant weight on text messages sent from the owner to the complainant, submitted in evidence. As she commented in her decision, “(I accept) As Ms G.’s Counsel observed `there was only one thing the text message `as I can I have ur pussy and in turn give you job’ could mean…no other plausible alternative was proffered.
The Commissioner dismissed both the owner’s claims that the complainant was the initiator of the physical incidents and that the text messages’ language simply reflected `banter’ in the workplace.
The Commissioner determined that victimisation of the complainant did not occur.
The Commissioner ordered the owner to pay the complainant an amount in excess of $50,000 comprising:
1. $15,960.75 for economic loss (subject to taxation);
2. $30,000 for general damages;
3. $5,000 for aggravated damages.
The amounts are to be paid within 28 days of the decision.
For queries about sexual harassment or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 1300 925 529, 0417 622 178 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org