Bullied worker wins $2.8M general protections payout
A general protections payout recently awarded to a Sydney woman is likely one of the largest ever. In May, the Federal Court ordered Hawkesbury Race Club to pay a whopping $2.8 million in compensation to its long-serving marketing manager as part of her general protections claim. Its not just the amount that is attention grabbing. But how common this scenario plays out in workplaces everyday. Bullied worker wins $2.8M general protections payout, is important information for anyone in a difficult or toxic workplace.
The payout came after the Federal Court ruled last December that the Club had breached its contract with the manager, an employee for 25 years. It was found that the Club had failed to pay her various entitlements. Also, that the manager’s life had been “effectively destroyed” by the bullying of the club’s chief executive, leaving her suicidal.
This case – Leggett v Hawkesbury Race Club Limited (No 3)  – is one where an employee was subjected to intense emotional turmoil at the hands of her boss. Let’s look at the key events of the case. At the bullying actions of the chief executive, who could be accurately described as a micro-managing boss from hell.
General protections case: New CEO makes life hell for long-serving manager
Vivienne Leggett began working at the Hawkesbury Race Club in January 1991. But in May 2016, her experience their took a turn for the worse when the Club appointed a new CEO, Gregory Rudolph. Shortly after, he begun emailing Mrs Leggett with a variety of trivial tasks, and they soon had a formal meeting in his office.
Arriving at Mr Rudolph’s office’s, Mrs Leggett was subjected to very icy behaviour from her boss. Without speaking, he simply waved his hand to motion her into his office and sit down. Standing one meter away from her, Mr Rudolph said that she was earning “too much money”. That elsewhere, she’d be earning half as much.
This was just the start of the disrespectful treatment that Mrs Leggett would endure and later reveal in her general protections case.
The CEO makes serious accusations about the manager
Later in May, Mr Rudolph had a meeting with Kimberley Talbot, the CEO of another club. They a major sponsor of the Hawkesbury Race Club. During this meeting, he asked Ms Talbot “why would Vivienne be paid roughly what I’m being paid as marketing and sponsorship manager?” After Ms Talbot explained how Mrs Leggett provided value, Mr Rudolph said, “I still don’t think it’s worth around about $180,000.” The duo then had this exchange:
MR RUDOLPH: Do you think there was anything else in the package?
MS TALBOT: What do you mean?
MR RUDOLPH: Like a kickback?
MS TALBOT: Absolutely not.
“I am losing sleep”: The CEO begins excessively micromanaging and denying entitlements
In the next few months, Mr Rudolph would constantly email Mrs Leggett about expenses she had made on the company credit card. Questioning their validity. And even though Mrs Leggett provided clear explanations for the expenses and receipts, she was soon denied use of the company credit card.
Mrs Leggett was also forced to undergo a review to receive her annual bonus. This had never happened in years prior and was only required of herself and one other employee. Mrs Leggett was also required to provide a detailed summation of her entire history of payments received while working at the club.
She was asked to provide this substantial, repetitive task by the end of the day – a near impossible task. Mr Rudolph also held off paying Mrs Leggett her bonus for a number of months due to “her demands.” These wrongdoings would feature as key factors in Mrs Leggett’s general protections hearing in the Federal Court.
In July 2016, Mr Rudolph began querying Mrs Leggett about the cost of race winners’ sashes. The tone of his emails suggested that she had been underhanded about the prices she was buying and then selling these sashes to race owners. In one email, Mr Rudolph asked “who came up with the $77 fee for additional sale of sashes and how have you, if indeed you have, advised Lea or Joanne for accounting purposes?”
I am losing sleep
This promoted Mrs Leggett to respond via email on the same day, stating: “Greg, I feel that you don’t trust me in performing my sponsorship duties that I have carried out for the last 25 years with the full disclosure with Brian and the board. I am happy to come in and talk through any issues that need clarification however I am losing sleep and constantly thinking about these emails and other questions you are raising.”
“I haven’t stopped crying for a week”: The micromanaging takes a heavy emotional toll
Central to this general protections case is the profound emotional toll which Mr Rudolph’s treatment had on Mrs Leggett. In July 2016, the distress caused her to phone a director of the Club, and during their conversation, she told him:
“I just can’t believe why he would be micromanaging me, I feel like he doesn’t trust what I’m doing or what I’ve been doing for 25 years. I feel like he’s just, like, put me in a box and won’t let me do anything. Just can’t work properly because he’s constantly harassing me.”
A month later, Mrs Leggett called the same Club director while sobbing, and said: “I can’t take this anymore, Sid. I can’t …cope. I’m constantly I just I can’t stop crying. I haven’t stopped crying for a week. I can’t do my work. I’m so stressed. I can’t eat. Can’t sleep. I’m just completely just not myself. I’m just gone from, I don’t know, being a confident sort of person to just nothing.”
Mrs Leggett would confide similar feelings to another Club director a few months later, telling him: “I can’t take this sh*t any more, Gerry… I’m just so over this, the way I’ve been treated, and I feel sick to the guts. I feel …like a bit of gum on his shoe, is how I felt, I can’t sleep. I can’t do nothing. Do you know anything of what’s happening?”
The key event of this general protections case: The manager reaches her limits
On 9 October, Mrs Leggett’s harassment from her boss took a turn for the worse. The Club was hosting its World Race Day, and she had been invited down to the race barriers by a colleague. This colleague was showing Mrs Leggett what the starters needed to do to place the horses in the starting gates, when she received a call from her boss.
He asked her “are you at the barriers?” and when she said she was, he said “you get back here right now and do your own sashing…I have to go through the bars to collect the money and Lea can’t leave the office. You get back here right now and don’t ever do that without my approval again.”
Not long after, Mrs Leggett went to the car park, saw her husband there, hugged him and began crying. Soon, a director of the Club approached her, asking what was wrong. She explained what Mr Rudolph had said over the phone, saying: “Do you know how humiliating and embarrassing that was for me in front of the stewards and starters and everybody behind the barriers, to be yelled at and spoken to so badly?”
Straw that broke the camels back
“I wouldn’t have picked up the phone,” replied the director. “I would have told him to f*** off.” This event was essentially the straw that broke the camels back, and perhaps the most pivotal moment in this general protections case. That night, Mrs Leggett sent an email to Mr Rudolph, which read thusly.
I refer to your phone call today when you ordered me back from the barriers. I was very embarrassed to be placed in a situation in which I had to ask the stewards and attendants to take me back to the enclosure before the race started. I felt that you were rude with this demand, as I did not have an opportunity to explain to you (before you hung up on me) that I would be back before the end of the race. This fact I had already checked on before going to the barriers with Alan.
I am very upset you used the tones you did as I recall that you encouraged me last Raceday in front of Jeff and race sponsors that I could go to the barriers. I don’t know why you needed to speak to me so harshly over this issue as the race did not even have a sponsor. This being the reason I used this opportunity and took your advice to go.
The issue today has compounded many other situations which I have felt down trodden, excluded and questioned unreasonably as I carry out my duties as Sponsorship and Marketing Manager. I feel like we are reaching an untenable situation which needs to be resolved. Please advise the board of these issues.
“Dropping like flies: The CEO makes a coarse remark about his employee
Mr Rudolph sent a terse reply to Mrs Leggett’s the next day. Simply asking her to “please meet me in my office tomorrow morning.” When she received this email, Mrs Leggett felt even more emotionally distressed and started vomiting. This promoted her to visit her general practitioner, who provided a medical certificate stating that she was unfit to work until 17 October 2016.
Mrs Leggett emailed the medical certificate to Mr Rudolph, explaining that she was now on medication. He acknowledged the receipt of the certificate, then forwarded the email to his father-in-law with the comment “Dropping like flies…”
On 19 October, Mrs Leggett emailed her boss saying that she would still be unfit to work until 24 October. This caused Mr Rudolph to delay payment of Mrs Leggett’s commission. She would never return to work at the Club, and soon made a general protections claim with the Fair Work Commission.
“He effectively destroyed her life”: Federal Court rules on manager’s general protections claim
When Mrs Leggett’s general protections claim went to court, Justice Steven Rares found that Mr Rudolph had exhibited an “overbearing micromanagement style.” He said that the CEO had constantly subjected his employee to “dogged interrogation…about trivial expenses.”
Justice Rares also noted that Mrs Leggett was denied her annual bonus “because [Mr Rudolph] was irritated by ‘her demands.’” Most notably, he found that Mr Rudolph had “effectively destroyed [Mrs Leggett’s] life.”
“She cannot work and, as the joint experts agreed, is permanently incapacitated from doing so because of [Mr Rudolph’s] and the club’s conduct,” said Justice Rares. “That conduct caused a very serious psychiatric illness that may never be cured, or ameliorated to any significant degree.”
Have you been bulled at work? Dismissed in circumstances as outlines above?
Bullying at work is never acceptable, and you have every right to stand up for yourself. This includes availing the workplace instruments that can put a stop to bullying or help you claim compensation. Clearly the above workplace was toxic and for way too long. sometimes when your in these toxic situations, you the last to realize how toxic it is.
Conclusion to Bullied worker wins $2.8M general protections payout
You have rights, its how you excise them is the key. “bullied worker wins $2.8m” reflects how serious the Federal court now considers general protections claims. If you need to speak to someone who can understand what you are going through, give AWNA a call. Our friendly team can explain what your rights are and if you are eligible to make a general protections claim. All things Fair work, workers rights, casual employment, forced to resign, call us today
Call us today on 1800 333 666 for a free and confidential conversation.
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