Girl Talk: Kristy Fraser-Kirk's Sexual Harassment Precedent

Girl Talk: Kristy Fraser-Kirk's Sexual Harassment Precedent

How can it be that 30 years after Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin kicked the proverbial butt of their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss in Nine to Five that we are still talking about sexual harassment in the workplace... without irony (designer Alannah Hill's ill-conceived attempts at humour do not count)?

As has been widely reported, former David Jones junior publicist Kristy Fraser-Kirk, 27, launched legal action on the eve of the store's spring/summer showing this week (prime publicity time), claiming $37 million in damages against former CEO Mark McInnes, nine board members and the department store, while also setting a whopping new precedent for sexual harassment cases in Australia.

While SMH business reporter Elizabeth Knight untangles the legal detail here, several journalists, commentators, McInnes supporters and DJs loyalists have questioned Fraser-Kirk's motive – and the size of the claim – with the underlying theme: was that really necessary?

I think yes. Because $37 million big ones (equal to 5% of McInnes' salary and 5% of DJ's profits during the time he worked there) speaks loud and clear at a time when we are all too familiar with corporate excess (and have all felt the repercussions, globally) and when CEO salaries at the top 300 companies average $2.3 million a year (in 2009, McInnes took home salary of $1.78 million and a bonus of $2.68 million). Relatively speaking, it's big biccies for big business.

When, as Tory Magquire wrote for The Punch today, just 9% of Australian boards are made up of women and, as noted by marie claire this month, there is still a great disparity between men's and women's wages (just 82% of that of a man's), the picture of institutionalised disadvantage and sexist corporate culture becomes even clearer.

Writing on pay inequity for marie claire, Anna Saunders says, "It's not until they've been in the labour market for a few years...that many women realise they're getting a raw deal. Even then, the corporate "don't ask don't tell" attitude about pay cheques makes inequity hard to detect." This notion could apply equally to attitudes about misconduct.

While $37 million speaks loudly to every male-dominated industry, every company board, every woman in a workplace who might feel disempowered by her circumstances, every big shot who thinks he doesn't have to play by the rules of respectful conduct, and every whistle-blowing workman on a building site, most importantly it will speak to a generation of young women about integrity and standing up to bullies. "It is not just about me," said Fraser-Kirk in a prepared media statement. "I'm a young woman standing here today simply because I said it was not okay, because I said this should never happen to me or to anyone."

See also:
Damn domestic violence, support Wayne Cooper
Lara Bingle, Woman's Day, ACA

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

Is this girl serious,she has destroyed a career almost ruined a company WHY because a man tweeked her bra strap ,asked her to his place,called her to go out for dinner and tried to kiss her,How did he attempt to kiss her when usually people just walk away,why didn't she? I was under the impression of much much worse for her to lay these claims.This is not sexual harrasment and she is ruining this for the poor women who have genuine complaints. How can such a serious thing be taken seriously with people like her abusing the system,she is going to destroy the credability of women in the workplace woman who have strived so hard to become heard and equal to men in a business world. Why did she put herself in this position twice if she was that unhappy with the advances of the most eligible man in Australia UNLESS? if she was incapable of handling this situation how does she cope in the business world dealing with real problems.

Nat Kringoudis Melbourne said...

Unfortunately, like many of these incidents, women also need be careful, not to send the wrong signal out. Im not saying this definitely the case, but time and time again, women send off the wrong impression, and then end up in trouble. We need to be careful what messages we are sending out to men also. By no means is what he did right, we know that.
Is 37 million reasonable? Im not sure - there are starving Children in the world and countries in despair. It surely will raise awareness and make men think in the future. Im of two minds. Men and Women need to know that its not ok.

carla said...

It's people like the above who make this case so worth it. You're deluded in thinking that it's in any way ok for any person to make unwanted sexual advances to another person.

Get a grip and put yourself in her shoes!

Talia Cain said...

"anonymous" = A. Hill with time on her hands? Or a relative?

Nat, with all due respect, what message/signal are you insinuating that women are "sending out"? Because if you follow that path it turns into "she was wearing a mini skirt, so she was asking for it". Which is the extreme I know, and not words coming from your mouth - but it is a slippery slope.

I am just so sick of women having to be the ones that "watch" their behaviour and be responsible for the way men behave. It's a two-way street.

Cat said...

Anonymous, this is a genuine complaint and what Kristy Fraser Kirk is actually doing is bringing it to the attention of the public AND standing up for all those women (and men as well) who suffer sexual harassment in the work place. As she said, it is not ok for anyone to put up with it.

In all likelihood she was capable of "handling this situation," but she has chosen to stand up for all those women who may not be as capable of dealing with sexual harassment. In doing so has highlighted a very real and damaging problem in Australian workplaces. If women want to be taken seriously in the workplace, they need to stand up against issues such as sexual harassment and not just sweep it under the carpet and allow themselves to be treated as sex objects.

Kate said...

To the first two commenters: instead of blaming the victim yet again, why can't we say, for once, that it's MEN who need to 'be careful'. MEN who shouldn't 'give the wrong impression', MEN who send 'the wrong signal'. Nobody destroyed McInnes's career except McInnes.
And Anon, I feel sorry for you that you have such low expectations of men's behaviour that you think all the acts you outlined are minor. They're not, and decent men don't behave that way.

Hero said...

The first thing everyone with an opinion should do is read the court documents which you can find here:

Until you read these, it's difficult to understand exactly what happened - and why this young woman has chosen to do what she has.

Anonymous said...

Kate - yes. Just yes.

Anonymous said...

A woman has a right to go to work and just work. It is not a dating bar and there is no requirement for any contact. She is entitled to that, just like every man in the company. It is ok if she doesn't want that attention and she should be standing up for herself. Go Kristy!

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Julie said...

Kristy has my full support with this Harassment suit. She is not only fighting for herself, she is fighting for any person who has been sexually harassed in the work place. Every person in every workplace needs to be made aware that any form of harassment is not acceptable.There has been some comment about the $37million. The claim needs to be a large figure to make people take notice, if the sum were a smaller amount there would be much less made of it and the public and perpetrators would not take the claim seriously. It is a very serious issue which has been ignored for too long. To Kristy, You go girl, I for one am behind you all the way.

Colenso said...

On the face of it, the amount claimed was very high. But this helped to attract the attention of the media. Note also that the plaintiff sought that any punitive damages be paid to a charity, nominated by the plaintiff, specialising in helping victims of workplace sexual harassment AND bullying.

Here in Oz, workplace bullying is endemic. My wife, a primary school teacher, was horribly bullied at work for six years by her immediate female supervisor and by her supervisor's equally ghastly husband, who got special perks in the workplace through being married to his wife.

My wife repeatedly tried complaining to the School Principal, another female, with absolutely no success whatsoever.

My wife wasn't the only victim of this Dickensian couple and headmistress. Six other women teachers were forced to resign, or were sacked from the College, thanks to the relentless bullying of this couple backed up by the College Principal.

And guess what? The College Principal, who was ultimately responsible for the welfare of her staff, got Queensland Senior Citizen of the Year. Yep, that’s how it works in this bloody awful country.

I sought legal advice to try and help my wife from a number of legal firms around Oz. I got absolutely nowhere.

In my view, the treatment handed out to my wife and the other six women forced to leave their place of employment because of workplace bullying was far worse than what happened to the plaintiff in this case.

But Australia is like the USA and the UK: in general, nobody cares about women (or men), young or old, straight or gay, who are viciously bullied to the point of contemplating suicide by a vicious supervisor, male or female, at work.

But once sexual harrassment rears its ugly head. Well, then of course that's a different story. Immediately, the prurient media and their equally prurient readers start lapping up all the gory details.

Pathetic - absolutely pathetic. Nonetheless I still say: Go Ms Fraser Kirk! You have helped waken up this awful country to some of the realities of workplace harassment. This has got to be a good thing.