Poster sexual harassment decision upheld

A court has dismissed an appeal by a poster company found to have sexually harassed a woman.
A court has dismissed an appeal by a poster company found to have sexually harassed a woman.

A NSW court has dismissed an appeal by a company found to have sexually harassed a woman featured in a safety poster urging her predominantly male colleagues to "Feel great - lubricate!".

After a four-year legal battle, Reem Yelda was in April awarded $200,000 in damages by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The tribunal found Sydney Water - her employer - and Vitality Works - the company that designed the poster - had sexually harassed Ms Yelda through an A3 poster depicting her below the the phrase: "Feel Great - lubricate!".

The poster was displayed for two months in 2016, including outside the men's toilets at Sydney Water's Ryde depot where Ms Yelda worked.

She had told the tribunal said she was in disbelief and felt like a "sex object" after male colleagues emailed her saying "Who's the chick in the photo??" and "Great advice mate but a bit too much info for me!!!!".

Both companies had unsuccessfully appealed the tribunal's decision, but Vitality Works sought leave to appeal in a higher court, arguing that the tribunal had made legal errors in its decision.

Three judges in the NSW Court of Appeal have now dismissed that appeal, rejecting "the suggestion that conduct cannot amount to sexual harassment unless it is sexually explicit".

"The sexualisation of women in the workplace often isn't," Justice Lucy McCallum said.

"Innuendo, insinuation, implication, overtone, undertone, horseplay, a hint, a wink or a nod; these are all devices capable of being deployed to sexualise conduct in ways that may be unwelcome.

"(That argument) overlooks the infinite subtlety of human interaction and the historical forces that have shaped the subordinate place of women in the workplace for centuries."

In a statement on Tuesday, Ms Yelda's lawyers says the decision was a vindication for her.

"This is an important decision that confirms the scope of unlawful sexual harassment in Australian workplaces," a spokesperson for Harmers Workplace Lawyers said.

While the $100,000 in damages each company must pay Ms Yelda is the jurisdictional cap, she has not been able to obtain full recovery of her losses, it said.

"However, Ms Yelda's battle continues in separate proceedings against Sydney Water in relation to the loss of her career."

"She is seeking larger, and uncapped, damages from Sydney Water."

Australian Associated Press