The decision of former David Jones publicist Kristy Fraser-Kirk to turn down an offer of settlement from the David Jones executive is astounding, according to workplace law expert Gerard Phillips.
According to media reports yesterday (1 September), Kristy Fraser-Kirk knocked back an offer of $850,000 from David Jones just prior to launching a sexual harassment suit against former CEO Mark McInnes in the Federal Court last month.
Phillips, a partner at Middletons, said he is amazed that she turned down the money, given his belief that she is highly unlikely to get anywhere near that amount from a Federal Court ruling.
"I am gob smacked that she has turned that down, because the case, in my view, is worth somewhere between zero and fifty thousand dollars," Phillips told Lawyers Weekly.
Media reports have also claimed that more women are about to come forward with similar claims against McInnes, but Phillips said it will make no difference to Fraser-Kirk's case, considering that the sum being claimed - $37 million - is mostly for punitive damages.
Phillips also believes the magnitude of the sum claimed, and the media attention surrounding it, has set back workplace equality and the way in which women are treated in the workplace by at least 50 years.
"Imagine that I go to one of my clients, who has had a similar circumstance arise, and I tell them that the CEO has got to go, that he should fall on his sword, his action was inappropriate and possibly unlawful. Why wouldn't the board say to me, 'well, DJs did that and it just landed them in more hot water'? So why would you do it?" he said.
Phillips believes Fraser-Kirk has "trivialised" the issue of sexual harassment. "[The sum of $37 million] is a sum so fantastic and absurd that it will never be ordered. It should be a serious issue. It has trivialised it immeasurably."