Big $$ awarded by Human Rights Review Tribunal

General / 25 April 2017
Big $$ awarded by Human Rights Review Tribunal

A recent case in the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT) between former conservative party leader, Colin Craig and his ex-press secretary, Rachel MacGregor highlights the financial implications an employer may incur if they fail to abide by the terms of a confidential settlement.

It also supports our view as discussed here that the HRRT is likely to become a more popular forum for employee claimants given the higher awards that have been made, compared with those awarded in the employment jurisdiction, including the Employment Relations Authority where the average award for hurt and humiliation compensation continues to be around $5,000-$6,000.

Case summary
Ms MacGregor was employed as Mr Craig’s press secretary.  Throughout her employment, Mr Craig sent a series of text messages of a sexual nature, including that he wanted to kiss and hug her and thanked her for subsequently dressing ‘modestly’ after she had worn a low cut top.

There were also a series of other inappropriate actions of a sexual nature that Mr Craig took throughout her employment that resulted in Ms MacGregor resigning from her position.

Ms MacGregor raised a claim of sexual harassment against Mr Craig.  The matter was heard at a mediation facilitated by the Human Rights Commission.

Ms MacGregor’s claims were settled at mediation and as part of this process both parties signed a settlement agreement. The settlement agreement stated that the contents of the agreement were not to be disclosed to any third party.

Mr Craig repeatedly breached the settlement agreement publicly by discussing Ms MacGregor and the sexual harassment claims.

Ms MacGregor raised a claim in the HRRT alleging that Mr Craig had breached the Human Rights Act 1993 (Act) through his repeated and deliberate breaches of the settlement agreement and the mediation process.

The HRRT found that Mr Craig had deliberately and repeatedly breached the settlement agreement and Act and acknowledged the impact these breaches had on Ms MacGregor.  She was awarded $128,780.00 in damages.  The damages in this case were substantial in recognition of the hurt, humiliation and injury to feelings Ms MacGregor has suffered over a two year period.

Case learnings
Any employer who attends mediation and/or signs a settlement agreement under either the Act or the Employment Relations Act 2000 needs to ensure that they adhere strictly to the terms of that agreement.  Failure to adhere to these requirements may result in financial penalties.

If you would like to know more about your obligations in relation to harassment, mediation or settlement agreements, please contact us.

Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law and health and safety topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek legal advice from your lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.

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