Yesterday, Crikey was tipped off about a tale of sexual harassment and incompetence at Sydney Theatre Company. And no, it’s not in next year’s season line-up.

It’s
alleged that in September 2004, a former male employee of STC was
sexually harassed and assaulted by another male colleague while working
during a performance.

During the shift, the perpetrator
allegedly asked the victim “disgusting” personal questions (about
sexual positions, etc). Despite the victim’s protests, he then touched
him five times on the backside before forcing his hand between the
victim’s butt cheeks, as if to penetrate him, which caused bruising.

But
the nub of the complaint, which has since been taken to mediation,
doesn’t centre on the perpetrator’s deeds, but rather STC’s inaction in
addressing the situation.

Despite complaining to his supervisor,
the victim was allegedly rostered on with the perpetrator again. At
that stage, he went to the box office manager, who “made out it was a
big hassle” – informing the victim that the perpetrator “is a friend of
mine, what can I do?” – and continued to roster him on with the
perpetrator for another week.

Unhappy with this situation, the
victim reported it to the second in charge who took it to the HR
manager and Deputy Manager. They asked the box office manager to issue
a written warning to the perpetrator, but she refused, saying the event
had been blown out of proportion.

In the end, the victim was
taken off shifts with the perpetrator, but rostered on with the box
office manager instead, who is claimed to have victimised him from late
October to early May this year, calling him “worthless” and constantly
deriding him.

On 5 May this year, the victim was rostered on
again with the perpetrator, at which time he took the complaint to the
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). The body questioned why
the original and subsequent complaints weren’t followed up according to
guidelines laid down in STC’s Human Resources Policies and Procedures
Manual. At this stage, it was apparently implied that the complaint had
been adequately handled because “this type of behaviour is acceptable
within the gay community.”

The MEAA prompted investigations
into the matter, during which time, the victim was allegedly harassed
by the duty manager and HR manager, who were calling him up to eight
times a day. Until the MEAA got involved, it’s claimed that they had
not spoken with the victim about the matter.

Requests for
stress leave were apparently denied to the victim, whose shifts were
cut to one per week, forcing him to leave STC in June, after two years
of working there. It’s alleged that STC refused to pay any of the
medical costs associated with the victim’s post-traumatic stress. The
company did however initiate three counselling sessions, but wouldn’t
pay for any more.

The matter came to a head at mediation last
week where the perpetrator agreed to settle out of court – and was paid
a reportedly large amount of money to leave STC. In the mediation, STC
stood by the fact that they had treated the incident correctly and
refused to compensate the victim. If the victim wishes to take the
matter further, it will head to the federal court.

In light of
the complaints, STC’s policy on Harassment Prevention in the Workplace
makes for interesting reading. It provides clear procedures to follow
in the event of harassment – labelled the “grievance procedure” – on
the part of the employee and management.

  • All harassment complaints will be treated seriously, confidentially, fairly, impartially, sympathetically and efficiently.
  • Harassment is defined as “insulting or threatening words or
    gestures, sexual or suggestive remarks, offensive jokes,” as well as
    “dismissive treatment or material expressing prejudice or stereotypic
    assumptions about a ‘group’ to which a person may belong.”

  • Any form of victimisation throughout the grievance procedure
    will not be tolerated. Incidents of victimisation will be treated as
    seriously as the original behaviour, which gave rise to the grievance.

  • It is STC’s aim that all complaints will be resolved in a
    timely manner, with minimal disruption to an employees’ work schedule
    and environment.

  • The people involved in resolving the grievance will treat all
    grievances sensitively. An employee lodging a complaint will not be
    patronised, ridiculed or treated poorly for explaining their concerns.

We
spoke to STC’s General Manager Rob Brookman who said that a “number of
crucial things are inaccurate” in the story. There are “significant
errors of fact,” he told Crikey, but wouldn’t go into any detail,
explaining it’s “not something that STC wants to pursue in a public
forum.” However, Brookman did say that he believes STC’s HR managers
acted appropriately and in accordance with STC’s guidelines.

Peter Fray

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