Sexual Harassment: Trolan v WD Gelle Insurance and Finance Brokers Pty Ltd [2014]

Ms Trolan commenced employment with WD Gelle Insurance and Finance Brokers Pty Ltd (the ‘defendant’) in July 2008. Approximately one month into her employment, Mr Gelle, a director of the defendant commenced a series of conduct which Ms Trolan claimed amounted to sexual harassment, intimidation and bullying. This included Mr Gelle:

  • Positioning himself behind Ms Trolan and pressing and rubbing his penis against her buttocks;
  • Repeatedly calling her into his office and placing his hand under her shirt and bra and grabbing her breasts;
  • Making gratuitous remarks about the dress she was wearing and suggesting that she should wear dresses more often to show off her legs;
  • Screaming at Ms Trolan in a bad tempered manner;
  • Placing his hand up the back of Ms Trolan’s dress and squeezing her bottom;
  • Sliding his hands up and down her leg to a point about an inch below her vagina;
  • Pinning her hands by her side with the effect of restraining and immobilising her and attempting to kiss her;
  • Touching her vagina through her clothes;
  • Telling her that he wanted to make love to her and that he thought she needed a baby;
  • Placing a pencil down the back of her trousers and lodging it between her buttocks.

Ms Trolan made a complaint to Mrs Gelle, the wife of Mr Gelle and co-director of the defendant, advising her of the conduct she had been subject of. Mrs Gelle advised that she would “sort it out.”However, subsequent to this Mr Gelle’s conduct did not change.

In December 2012, after Ms Trolan had obtained a medical certificate that enabled her to go onto workers’ compensation benefits due to psychological incapacity, Mr Gelle turned up at her house uninvited and would not leave. Ms Trolan called police, who arrived and removed him from her property.

Ms Trolan claimed that Mr Gelle made a death threat against her in early 2009 by telephone. Police traced the call to Mr Gelle’s accountant.

Ms Trolan bought her claim against the defendant in negligence, alleging that Mr Gelle conducted himself towards her in an unwelcomed and sexualised manner and that such conduct amounted to sexual harassment, intimidation and bullying.

Due to Mr Gelle’s behaviour, Ms Trolan claimed that she had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, chronic adjustment and major depressive disorder.

Decision

Judge Levy who heard the matter in the NSW District Court found that the defendant failed to provide Ms Trolan with a safe place of work, did not take reasonable steps to care for Ms Trolan’s psychological wellbeing, and exposed Ms Trolan to the peril of Mr Gelle’s continuing and repeated sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation.

The Court ordered the defendant to pay damages to Ms Trolan in the sum of $733,723 for past and future economic loss and past and future loss of superannuation. 

* PCC Lawyers are a team of employment practitioners based in Sydney, with many years of combined knowledge and experience in workplace law, industrial relations, workplace investigations and training.  They provide a high standard of excellence and an exceptional level of personal service to a variety of clients in the Sydney metropolitan area, Central Coast, regional NSW and interstate.