Riding crop slap at work ‘playful’, not sexual harassment, CSIRO lawyer argues
Dr Katherine Morton was asked whether she was a prostitute, her lawyer told the court. (ABC News: Melinda Howells)
A former CSIRO scientist’s allegation she was sexually assaulted at work when she was hit with a riding crop has been played down by a lawyer for the federal science agency, who argued the crop was used in a “playful way”.
Dr Katherine Morton lodged an unfair dismissal claim against her former employer and the case is being heard in the Federal Court in Brisbane.
Dr Morton alleged she suffered sexual harassment and sex discrimination at the CSIRO, before being made redundant in 2016.
On the first day of the trial, Dr Morton’s barrister Lisa Willson told the court her client was called a hussy by a colleague, was asked whether or not she was a prostitute, and comments were made about her cleavage.
The court heard that Dr Morton’s former supervisor Dr Brett Glencross admitted hitting her on the buttocks with a riding crop at a CSIRO lab on Bribie Island on October 16, 2012.
But CSIRO barrister Justin Bourke QC said Dr Morton herself hit several colleagues with the riding crop in a “playful way”.
“Dr Glencross took the riding crop, slapped her, and said something along the lines of ‘let’s get back to work’ and put the riding crop away,” Mr Bourke said.
“That has become over time a sexual assault?”
The court heard Dr Morton denied ever touching the riding crop that day.
Mr Bourke said Dr Morton was fond of using nicknames, and referred to Dr Glencross as Bunny or Professor Bunny, even after the incident.
“She goes out for dinner with ‘Bunny’ — her attacker — the day she said she was sexually assaulted,” Mr Bourke said.
Dr Morton diagnosed with major depressive disorder
Ms Willson told the court that Dr Morton had being diagnosed with a major depressive disorder and had been unable to work.
Ms Willson said her client had complained to the CSIRO about her treatment and made a workers compensation claim, and the way she was dealt with had caused stress and loss.
“As a result of making such complaints and exercising her rights… she was penalised and systematically punished by the respondent over time,” Ms Wilson said.
But Mr Bourke told the court Dr Morton had successfully completed a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and ran a booming eBay business, and was happy to be made redundant.
He referred to a Facebook post that she made in June 2016.
“She celebrates until 3:00am, although she’s got a major depressive disorder, the fact her 11th MBA subject is finished, and she’s received a redundancy — that we’re being sued for,” Mr Bourke said.
The trial is set down for four weeks.