Oracle fined $18K in Australian sexual harassment case

Technology giant Oracle has been ordered by the Australian Federal Court to pay out AU$18,000 for breaching the Sex Discrimination Act.

The Federal Court of Australia has found that Oracle is liable for the sexual harassment of a former project manager by a sales representative in 2008, and has ordered the company pay AU$18,000 in damages.

The former project manager, Rebecca Richardson, who now works for EMC, sued Oracle for AU$450,000 over allegations of sexual harassment by sales representative Randol Tucker between April and November 2008, as first reported by The Australian Financial Review.

At the time, Oracle was chasing a multimillion-dollar contract with ANZ bank for an identity management and security project, and Richardson and Tucker were working together on the bid.

Richardson said that Tucker had vastly different views on how the project should be run, and how much work should be subcontracted out to Infosys and 443.

However, the case focused on comments that Tucker allegedly made during their time working together on the project, starting with a suggestion from Tucker that he and Richardson were married in a previous life, and progressing to harassing Richardson for not attending a party with him and not going on a date with him, right up to alleged comments from Tucker on how "hot [Richardson] would be in bed".

Richardson requested to be taken off the ANZ project in August 2008, but she did not provide a reason for wanting to be taken off, and her request was declined. In November, after the last of the 11 documented incidents, Richardson told her manager, who then went to Oracle's HR department with the complaint.

Richardson then made a formal complaint, and the HR department told Tucker that his behaviour was inappropriate, and issued him with a first and final warning. Tucker and Richardson continued to work together on the project while the HR investigation was underway through to December, and Richardson was told not to disclose her complaint about Tucker to anyone else in the company.

Ultimately, the company decided to take Richardson off the project and place her on an internal Oracle project, which Richardson viewed as a demotion, while Tucker was kept on the ANZ project. Richardson resigned in March 2009 for a role at EMC.

"I have loyally and faithfully served Oracle for 10.75 years. It is extremely unfortunate that Oracle has mismanaged this situation to such an extent that I have been compelled to issue this letter confirming the termination of our employment relationship," Richardson said in her resignation letter.

"Only after careful consideration did I lodge the formal complaint, and I would have expected Oracle to treat this complaint with the utmost professionalism due to the seriousness of the complaint. By its own admission, Oracle mismanaged the situation and sacrificed my career path to close a $1.4 million deal."

Justice Robert Buchanan found that Tucker's actions were "persistent and ultimately callous", and that Oracle did not take all the reasonable steps to prevent Tucker's conduct. However, he also said that Richardson had left Oracle voluntarily for a role at EMC, which paid only slightly less than what she was being paid at Oracle. He fined Oracle AU$18,000 in general damages.

Oracle has subsequently introduced a new workplace diversity training policy for all staff. The court has yet to rule on costs.