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​Pranking can be a costly problem ​

Legal case: Sexual harassment

Published: 15 March 2017

Pranking and practical jokes are always at someone else’s expense. They can cause significant cost and heartache to employers, perpetrators and victims alike, as a recent case in a Queensland school demonstrates.

The facts      

The groundsman and the cleaning supervisor at the school played the prank to set up Mr Green, another cleaner, in retaliation for a prank he had played on someone else.
 
They set up the teachers’ staff room to look like the scene of a recent ‘sex romp’, placing bedding on the floor and squirting cream into condoms which were strewn around the room. 
Underwear, empty wine and beer bottles, chip crumbs and party poppers littered the floor. They told Mr Green that the mess was left by two teachers who were having an affair. 

Mr Green was distressed about having to clean up such a mess (which he thought involved bodily fluids) and ‘deeply troubled’ by the thought of teachers having an affair on school grounds. 

Two days later he was told that it was a joke, and he initially laughed about it and appeared outwardly jovial. However he said he was deeply humiliated and distressed and was agitated and unable to sleep. 

Legal action 

Mr Green lodged a complaint of sexual harassment against the two cleaners and his employer, the State of Queensland, with the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission. He claimed that after he lodged the complaint he and his family were victimised by the two people involved in the prank. 

The complaint was not conciliated and Mr Green sought leave to have it heard by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. In the Tribunal, the state government claimed that he was pretending to be upset in order to get compensation. However Mr Green argued that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, had become more aggressive, was prone to mood swings, and had developed an alcohol problem. 

Decision

The Tribunal accepted Mr Green’s evidence. It said that while he had appeared to take it as a joke, this was just his way of coping with the humiliation. The Tribunal accepted that the prank had been intended to humiliate Mr Green and that its impact was very serious. 

Mr Green was awarded $156,051 in compensation.   
Green v State of Queensland, Brooker and Keating [2017] QCAT 008 (10 January, 2017)

Take home points

  • Pranks and practical jokes carry a high risk of causing offence, humiliation or intimidation to their victims. They can be a form of unlawful discrimination if the victim is being targeted because of their race, sex, age or disability or other characteristic covered by anti-discrimination laws. 
  • If the joke amounts to conduct of a sexual nature, it may be sexual harassment. 
  • If someone is hurt or injured as a result of the joke, it may also be a breach of work health or safety laws. 
  • The employer and or the jokers may be ordered to compensate the victim.  

Back to March 2017 - Equal Times Newsletter​​​​​​

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