Not all victims of sexual harassment are women

Legal case: Sexual harassment

Published: 17 July 2017

Although the majority of sexual harassment is experienced by women, men can also be victims of it. In a recent case in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, a young hairdressing apprentice successfully argued that he was sexually harassed by his male manager and trainer.

What happened?

Mr Kordas was employed at the Aztec Hair and Beauty Salon. He was not happy about the way he was treated by his trainer, Mr Eaton, and his manager, Mr Rony, who was the owner of the salon. Examples included Mr Eaton telling customers that he and Mr Kordas “were like a gay couple” and Mr Rony stroking his hand in a flirtatious manner.
 
He felt demeaned when Mr Eaton slapped him on the behind with a ruler and then asked him to smack him back, and he believed that Mr Eaton deliberately threw a hairclip on the ground to humiliate him and make him bend over in front of a client. Mr Eaton had told him: “You’re my bitch”. 

Mr Kordas told Mr Rony that he was humiliated and embarrassed and he wanted things to change. He said he was having nightmares and didn’t want to go to work, but he was trying to be positive because he loved hairdressing. Mr Rony’s response was to say that he would sort it out and his workers were like race horses who “need a pat on the bum to go faster”.

The behaviour continued and Mr Kordas again asked Mr Rony to stop the sexual harassment. Mr Rony denied any knowledge of the previous complaint and said he had never seen any harassment or bullying, although he had been present when some of the behaviour occurred.  

Mr Kordas was very depressed by this time and Mr Rony suggested he see a doctor. He did so and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety because of the situation. Eventually Mr Rony told Mr Kordas that there was no longer anyone to train him and he was dismissed. Mr Rony continued to deny that there was sexual harassment at the salon.

Mr Kordas made a complaint of sexual harassment and victimisation to the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW. The complaint could not be resolved through conciliation and was referred to the Tribunal.

The issues

To prove sexual harassment, Mr Korda had to show that he had been subjected to unwanted conduct of a sexual nature and that a reasonable person, in the circumstances, would have anticipated that it would offend, humiliate or intimidate him. 

To prove victimisation, he had to satisfy the Tribunal that he had suffered detriment or loss, at least partly as a result of making a complaint.

If found guilty of sexual harassment, the perpetrator may be held personally liable for the harm suffered. The employer may also be held ‘vicariously’ liable for the behaviour of its employees, unless it has taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent it.  

The decision

The Tribunal found that Mr Kordas had been sexually harassed. The behaviour was unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature towards someone who was in a junior position with little power, and a reasonable person would have anticipated that he would be humiliated or intimidated by the conduct.

The Tribunal also found that the conduct has exacerbated Mr Kordas’ depression, causing panic attacks and tearfulness. He no longer wanted to be a hairdresser because he feared that environment, and is now working as a barber. 

The employer was found to be vicariously liable for the sexual harassment and for victimising Mr Kordas. At least one of the reasons for his dismissal was that he made the complaint. 

No reasonable steps had been taken to prevent the behaviour. There had been no training and there were no signs or policies displayed. No action was taken when Mr Kordas let the salon’s owner know that he felt sexually harassed. 

Mr Kordas was awarded $5,000 for the owner’s sexual harassment of him, $10,000 for the trainer’s behaviour and $15,000 for the victimisation. 
        
Kordas v Ruba & Jo Pty Ltd t/a Aztec Hair and Beauty [2017] NSWCATAD 156 (25 May, 2017) 

Bac​k to July 2017 - Equal Time Newsletter​​

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