Kristy Fraser-Kirk’s $37 million s-xual harassment suit against David Jones and its erstwhile CEO Mark McInnes has resulted in a private settlement estimated to be about $850,000. This may be Australia’s biggest ever payout for s-xual harassment, overtaking nearly $500,000 awarded to South Australian woman Malgorzata Poniatowska in July.

It’s heartening news for women who previously may have felt too intimidated to take action against harassment at work, and a wake-up call for companies that previously may not have had an incentive to take s-xual harassment allegations seriously.

But that’s not how it’s being reported in the media. It seems rather ironic that the former DJ publicist — and her publicist, Anthony McClellan, from AMC Media — either didn’t anticipate or failed to prevent a storm of adverse publicity surrounding her case.

Surely, when Fraser-Kirk and her PR team deliberately timed her first public appearance to upstage David Jones’ spring/summer fashion launch, they realised they were provoking their opponents to open a can of houndstooth whoop-ass? They should have been on their toes. Instead, they lost control of the story.

So it was that we read how Fraser-Kirk had greedily knocked back her former employer’s earlier offer of $8 million, “won’t share a cent” of her eventual payout — contradicting her earlier vow to donate it all to charity — and even wanted David Jones to pay for her recent “New York escape”? She might even have ruined Christmas!

Most damningly of all, the 27-year-old was constantly, monotonously identified as a “junior publicist”, as if to underscore her general naïveté and poor professional judgement.

Meanwhile, as the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out, there has been very little corresponding criticism of Mark McInnes, who has been represented by Sue Cato and Matthew Horan of Cato Counsel.

Rather, poor wittle Mark, whose pregnant girlfriend and “powerful friends” are loyally standing by him, had “begged for mercy” from Fraser-Kirk, who he claimed had actually hit on him. Now he may be forced to personally fund her eventual payout.

Crikey also wonders who tipped off the Sydney Morning Herald’s Diary that Horan was spotted looking “shocked” when told that copies of court documents would cost $38. “I shouldn’t have had lunch today,” McInnes’ Bob Cratchit-esque spinner was overheard nobly professing while rummaging for coins. A nice touch.

Meanwhile, Fraser-Kirk’s PR team seemed oddly guileless. When The Australian’s Suzannah Moran asked both sides’ publicists for comment on their strategies, McClellan offered a full response in writing, while  Cato and Horan refused to go on the record.

Being forthcoming has turned into a major liability for Fraser-Kirk. So many details of the case have now leaked that it’s unlikely she will be able to parlay her story into tell-all magazine features or book deals. Commentators have also speculated that David Jones was able to negotiate so low a payout with Fraser-Kirk because the case was already public enough for the retailer not to see the point of “hush money”.

As the SMH’s Ian Verrender has observed, the journalists who ate up Cato’s spin are equally to blame for the mean, misogynist tone of this case’s coverage.

But was Fraser-Kirk’s team even interested in providing a feminist counter-narrative — that of a brave young woman who took on a powerful man heading a pitiless corporation, endured the humiliation of public scrutiny, and prevailed?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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