Lingerie worker wins adverse action claim after alleging ‘little slut’ remark

The manager of a high-end Melbourne lingerie store, who lingerie manufacturer alleged her boss called her a “little slut” for rejecting his advances, will receive compensation after bringing an adverse action claim to court.

Melbourne woman Monique Crawford has been embroiled in a legal fight with her former employer at the Simone Perele lingerie store on Spencer Street, claiming her six-month contract was not renewed because she had complained about the behaviour of one of her superiors.

Ms Crawford told the Federal Circuit Court that her regional director had made inappropriate advances during a dinner at Flower Drum, one of the city’s top-rated restaurants, in April last year.

She claimed he began brushin his leg against hers and made her feel ”extremely uncomfortable”. She said she politely declined the alleged advance and made clear to him it was unwelcome.

The next day, when Ms Crawford was reporting daily sales figures to the regional director over the phone, she said it was obvious there had been a fundamental shift in their workplace relationship.

“He was silent for a while then said words along the lines of ’Thanks very much for that, now that you have ruined my night you little slut’,” she told the court.

“He hung up on me. I was shocked.”

The company has strongly denied Ms Crawford’s claims of sexual harassment. Its lawyers said the court made no comment about whether the allegations were accurate and no adverse findings against the credibility of the director, who testified that he did not deliberately rub his leg against Ms Crawford, nor call her a “slut” over the phone.

Ms Crawford told the court that she had reported the incident to her national retail manager, but no one in the company followed up her concerns.

One month later, she was sent a letter saying that her six-month work contract had ended and would not be renewed.

The employers, who run multiple lingerie stores nationally under Simone Perele and Betty McDowell brands, told the court that the decision not to renew Ms Crawford’s contract had nothing to do with sexual harassment claims. Rather, she was deemed unsuitable for the position.

But Judge John O’Sullivan ruled that the lingerie retailer took adverse action against Ms Crawford by refusing to renew her job after she complained about the incident, and that this amounted to a breach of workplace law.

Judge O’Sullivan ruled Ms Crawford should be compensated for loss of income. The amount of compensation is yet to be determined. He said there was insufficient evidence that Ms Crawford would have been re-employed for a substantial length of time in the absence of the adverse action.

Lawyer Alan Sheppet, representing the lingerie company, was disappointed with the ruling, which found the company had not discharged the “reverse onus of proof” about whether Ms Crawford’s complaint influenced its decision not to re-employ her.

“The judge’s reasons for this conclusion did not grapple with or specifically mention most of the company’s evidence about this, including corroborative material from numerous witnesses,” he said.

“The company is otherwise considering its rights of appeal.”

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