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Qantas’ $100k offer to alleged sexual harassment victim in way of indemnity costs decision

The Federal Court has been asked to consider whether Qantas should be granted indemnity costs due to a $100,000 offer the airline made to a former employee who complained of sexual harassment.

user iconNaomi Neilson 03 November 2023 Big Law
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In August, Justice Katrina Banks-Smith dismissed an application brought by former Qantas customer services manager Sara Rossi, who claimed she did not have the mental capacity when she entered a deed in 2008 to end her claim for compensation.

Ms Rossi’s claims against the major airline include an alleged incident in which a male pilot put a phone headset against his groin “as if it were an erect penis [and] wiggled it around”.

She also alleged she was told to be “personally vigilant” of drink spiking to avoid sexual assaults on layovers.


Ms Rossi told the court she was unlawfully discriminated against and needed the deed set aside so she could bring a further application against Qantas under the Human Rights Commission Act.

The August decision effectively put an end to Ms Rossi’s applications.

Appearing in the Federal Court on Thursday (2 November), counsel for Qantas, Andrew Smorchevsky, said the test now is whether Ms Rossi’s refusal of the $100,000 offer was “unreasonable” and whether that justified the court making an order for indemnity costs.

He added the indemnity costs are the only “remaining issue” between the parties because Ms Rossi’s initial claim that she would seek an appeal “is no longer pressed and is no longer an issue”.

Mr Smorchevsky submitted the offer amount had been “substantial” and was “more in dollar amount” than Ms Rossi was offered when she signed the deed of settlement more than a decade ago.

Counsel for Ms Rossi, Anca Costin, said it was not unreasonable for her client to not accept the offer “for a number of reasons”.

One of the primary reasons was that the $100,000 was to be inclusive of legal costs, leaving Ms Rossi with little to none of the settlement.

“Having that in mind and comparing it with the $100,000, inclusive of costs, we are submitting that amount was not unreasonable for Ms Rossi to not accept at that time,” Ms Costin said.

Justice Banks-Smith said it was an “interesting issue in the context of it effectively being a preliminary question”.

The decision would have to determine what the relief sought was over the various stages “in the context of the offer”, she added.

The decision was reserved.