A new record for compensation awards
5 October 2016
Craig - a new record for compensation awards
The Human Rights Review Tribunal (Tribunal) has awarded Rachel MacGregor, former press secretary for Colin Craig, a record award of $120,000 for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.
The Tribunal's decision, released earlier this week, signals a continuing upward trend in damages awards, in contrast to awards from the other employment institutions.
Ms MacGregor was awarded a total sum of $128,780 in damages after the Tribunal found that Mr Craig deliberately and repeatedly breached the confidentiality terms of the settlement agreement entered into with Ms MacGregor, in a way "choreographed to attract maximum publicity and attention". Significantly, $120,000 of this sum was compensation for hurt, humiliation and injury to feelings, overtaking the previous high water mark of $98,000, set last year by the Tribunal in Hammond v Credit Union Baywide (the "rude cake" case).
Employees who believe they have been sexually harassed or discriminated against in their employment have a right to elect whether to pursue their claim under the Human Rights Act 1993 (HRA) or the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA).
The Tribunal's recent awards could signal a more lucrative pathway for aggrieved employees who have the option of pursuing a claim under the HRA. In contrast, the average compensation awards under the ERA are still only in the range of $5,000-$10,000.
Following the Hammond decision, the Employment Court noted that the Tribunal's recent awards for damages appear to be "substantially in excess" of awards made by both the Authority and Court in arguably similar proceedings and that these awards have fallen "woefully behind".
It seems likely that as a result of the high awards in these recent Tribunal cases, aggrieved employees may well be looking seriously at pursuing claims under the HRA, rather than the ERA.