Sydney, 23 July 2004 Read LAWFUEL’s PRESS RELEASES for all today’s law announcements
Following two high profile overseas sex discrimination cases one of Australia’s leading workplace relations lawyers is predicting a likely rise in the number of local cases reaching the courts and in certain instances higher damages being awarded.
Joe Catanzariti, who leads law firm Clayton Utz workplace relations team, believes that the recent record settlement of more than A$1 million involving Merrill Lynch may be a trigger for significantly higher compensation claims for workplace sexual harassment and discrimination in Australia.
Mr Catanzariti says that while sexual discrimination cases are capped in the NSW courts, they are not in the Federal Court, which he says could become the preferred avenue for many actions.
“Workplace sexual harassment and discrimination cases have not so far seen large payouts in Australia. It’s much more common here for these types of claims to be settled for substantially smaller amounts, even a couple of hundred thousand dollars in the bigger cases, and usually out side the court.
“This is despite changes in sexual-discrimination legislation that have been in place for many years now, that make it easier to initiate cases of this type. Coupled with the fact that more women now occupy senior management positions in Australia, I would have expected much larger verdicts in this country”, Mr Catanzariti said.
However Australia may be catching up as potential litigators or victims of workplace discrimination and sexual harassment become more sharply aware of the successful claims involving very large payouts in other countries.
“We are likely to see more of these types of cases as a direct result of the highly publicised UK and US cases and it’s also quite likely that we will also see very much larger claims made against Australian employers and companies in the future”, Mr Catanzariti said.
“Traditionally, we have adopted a conservative mindset towards workplace discrimination and sexual harassment in terms of the way the law has been applied and the level of payout and that will change.”
Employers and large companies will now need to be more acutely aware of the dangers of expensive litigation and start to treat these sorts of workplace issues more seriously.
“Some employers and companies already do a lot to educate staff and employees about discrimination and sexual harassment issues in the workplace, but others do very little.
“It’s simply not enough to deal with these issues by arranging a two hour session once a year. It needs to be treated as an ongoing issue and a high level of commitment from the CEO and senior management down.
It’s vital, now more than ever before, that employers implement anti discrimination programs as a long term commitment rather than a piecemeal, bits and pieces approach” said Mr Catanzariti.