A Sydney Water customer liaison officer who posed for a controversial workplace safety poster has won her discrimination case against the utility company.
The New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Tribunal found the worker had experienced unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex, and had been subjected to sexual harassment.
Rema Yelda willingly posed for the poster in 2015 which was supposed to promote spine safety – but the slogan that was used with her image said “Feel great – lubricate!”.
She told the tribunal that when she first saw the poster six months later outside the men’s toilets, she nearly collapsed.
“The poster humiliated and offended me,” she said.
Ms Yelda and another colleague individually complained about the poster to management, which took it down and apologised, acknowledging it “unfortunately contains a slogan that could be seen as offensive”.
But Ms Yelda did not return to work and took legal action against her former employer.
Posters featuring men were never printed
Employees for Vitality Works, who designed the poster, told the tribunal that lubricating the joints had been a key component of their training since 2010 and never been the subject of mirth.
Posters used in previous campaigns that were tendered to court depicted male workers doing stretches beneath the same slogan.
Two other templates featuring photographs of male employees were drawn up, there was no evidence that either of them had been printed.
The tribunal found they were also less suggestive of intimate sexual activity, since they also featured the words “Keep your joints lubricated to avoid wear and tear” in large type and the men were performing actual mobility exercises.
Ms Yelda was standing alone against a red background, with one hand raised towards the word “lubricate”.
“In our view, the display of a poster in the workplace of an employee, if it makes sexually suggestive remarks about an employee, or holds up such employee to possible embarrassment or humiliation of a sexual nature, can amount to sexual harassment of the employee.
“We come to the conclusion that a reasonable person would have anticipated that Ms Yelda would be, at least, offended or humiliated by the poster.”
Discrimination and sexual harassment costly for employers
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan said sex discrimination and sexual harassment can cost employers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“An employer cannot treat a woman less favourably than a man in the workplace, which is clearly what the tribunal found in this case, not to mention the sexual harassment that followed,” he said.
“Claims of discrimination and sexual harassment can result in payouts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – that’s why it is important for all companies to have stringent policies and regular training in place to hopefully prevent this sort of thing happening in the first place.”
The amount of compensation Ms Yelda will receive will be determined at a future hearing.
If you have experienced sexual harassment or sex discrimination, you may be entitled to compensation.
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