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Rio Tinto facing possible class action following sexual harassment report

Following a scathing report into Rio Tinto, which uncovered widespread sexual harassment, a BigLaw firm is investigating a class action against the mining giant.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 29 May 2024 Big Law
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Rio Tinto – one of the world’s biggest metals and mining corporations – could face a class action brought by employees and contractors who may have been subjected to sexual discrimination or sexual harassment at work on Australian mine sites.

In February 2022, a review conducted by former Australian sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick identified “disturbing findings of bullying, sexual harassment, racism and other forms of discrimination through the company”.

Broderick – who served as sex discrimination commissioner from 2007 to 2015 and is now principal of consultancy firm Elizabeth Broderick & Co – was engaged to conduct the independent review of the mining giant’s workplace culture.

 
 

Among the report’s findings were that, in the last five years, nearly three in 10 women and 6 per cent of men had experienced sexual harassment at work, four in 10 men and over three in 10 women who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in Australia experienced racism.

Shockingly, 21 women surveyed reported actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.

Bullying and sexism were also found to be “systemic” in Rio Tinto workplaces, with almost half of the people surveyed having experienced bullying.

In a statement issued at the time of the report’s release, Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm said: “The findings of this report are deeply disturbing to me and should be to everyone who reads them. I offer my heartfelt apology to every team member, past or present, who has suffered as a result of these behaviours. This is not the kind of company we want to be.

“I feel shame and enormous regret to have learned the extent to which bullying, sexual harassment and racism are happening at Rio Tinto.

“I am determined that by implementing appropriate actions to address the recommendations, and with the management team’s commitment to a safe, respectful and inclusive Rio Tinto in all areas, we will make positive and lasting change and strengthen our workplace culture for the long term.

“I am grateful to everyone who has come forward to share their experiences as we go about this vital work.”

At the time, Broderick did note that the report “is not a reason for reduced confidence in Rio Tinto”.

“By proactively commissioning this study, one of the largest of its kind within the resources industry, it demonstrates a very clear commitment to increased transparency, accountability, and action. The high levels of confidence among employees that a significant impact can be made in the next two years are an encouraging sign that change can happen,” she said.

Speaking about the investigation, Shine Lawyers class action practice leader Sarah Thomson said the firm is aiming to determine whether Rio Tinto and/or its related subsidiaries failed to take adequate steps to eliminate discrimination and sexual harassment for employees as far as possible in its workplaces and whether they are liable.

The Broderick report, Thomson noted, found that a large proportion of female employees described enduring everyday sexism “which impacted self-esteem, personal relationships and their employment”.

“We do not live in a world that tolerates sexual abuse and harassment in any workplace. Women have spoken out about instances of sexual abuse and assault and ultimately being driven out of the industry for speaking out. We cannot let any employer get away with this conduct without consequence,” she said.

Under the Sex Discrimination Act, Shine noted in a statement, an employer can be held vicariously liable for harassment by employees if the employer did not take “all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from committing the harassment”.

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