Queensland’s Industrial Court chief has quadrupled the $35,000 in damages originally awarded to a single mother of four subjected to relentless “lewd and disgusting” sexual harassment by her employer over a 14-month period.
Queensland Industrial Court President Justice Peter Davis on Friday 6 August ordered Brisbane-based laundromat proprietor Ian Sippel – owner of The Laundry Chute – pay the woman $130,000 in damages and almost $29,000 for economic losses encountered as result of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination.
In March, Queensland Industrial Relations Commissioner Roslyn McLennan awarded the woman, whom QLS Proctor has chosen to identify here as ‘PG’, $35,000 in damages after sustained sexual harassment during her employment between June 2017 and August 2018.
The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) was told Sippel made repeated unwanted sexual advances toward the Philippines-born woman who desperately needed the job to support her four young children.
The commission was also told PG was denied work opportunities by Sippel when she spurned his sexual advances.
Ms McLennan, in her findings, said: “(PG) was required to walk the perilous tightrope of protecting herself from repeated sexual advances, while also not too abruptly rebuffing Mr Sippel and risking losing her employment.”
She found Sippel’s persistent and constant harassment of PG escalated despite her rejection of his unwanted and often rebuked sexual advances, which were highlighted in telephone text messages.
The commission was told a series of text messages from Sippel – from 3 to 9 August 2018 – caused PG such distress she feared for her safety and felt it necessary to report the situation to police.
“In one of his last text messages to (PG), Mr Sippel promised that he would ‘… behave myself and leave u alone… ’ and that he may have a ‘proper job’ for her and would let her know in two days’ time. Mr Sippel testified that he later decided to give that job to someone else,” Ms McLennan said.
PG appealed Commissioner McLennan’s awarding of $30,000 in general and $5000 in aggravated damages and $15,960.75 for economic loss on the grounds they were manifestly inadequate.
Justice Davis, in a 20-page written decision, granted PG’s appeal and increased the sum of damages payable to $130,000 and almost doubled the economic loss to $28,702.60.
“The award of damages is, in my view, manifestly inadequate,” Justice Davis said. “Mr Sippel’s conduct was extremely serious.
“Over a period of 14 months, he tormented (PG), a woman who had little choice but to work for The Laundry Chute and put up with him because of her financial position. It was the reason why she tolerated his lewd and disgusting behaviour.
“On every day she appeared for work, she knew the prospect was that she would be humiliated and demeaned sexually by him. That ultimately resulted in a diagnosed anxiety disorder causing her to be unable to work.”
Read the decision.