Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A clear message to women

The Employment Relations Authority has sent a clear message to women: don't complain to them about sexual harassment in the workplace:

A young woman whose bottom was slapped in "fun" by her boss has now been ordered to pay her former employer $5000 in costs in the case.

In a decision last month, the Employment Relations Authority found Bruce Sanson, the owner of Hamilton's The Plant Place, did not sexually harass his former employee Ella Newman.

Ms Newman, 23, resigned the day after she alleged Mr Sanson slapped her behind in December 2013, and then alleged he had previously sexually harassed her during the two years she worked at his Hamilton garden centre.

Authority member Anna Fitzgibbon rejected those claims, calling Ms Newman an unreliable witness and questioning why she did not complain earlier.

The bottom slap was "inappropriate and should not be repeated" but took place during a joke, Ms Fitzgibbon found.

"Ms Newman was being cheeky about Mr Sanson's floppy hat and he slapped her on the bottom.

It was a one-off slap, which I accept was a 'fun slap'."

The authority has now ordered Ms Newman to pay her former employer a total of $5000 as a contribution to costs.

So, we have victim-blaming, minimisation, and punishment, all wrapped up in one toxic, sexist package. And we now have the concept of a "fun slap" in the workplace to boot. Which is an interesting way to describe assault.

Its one thing to reject a complaint as unfounded, and to say clearly that a witness is unreliable. But doing it like this and awarding costs can only be viewed as an attempt to deter similar cases in future - an explicit attempt to deny justice for discrimination and harassment. And that's not something any branch of our courts should be doing.