Hawkesbury Race Club has been ordered to pay more than $120,000 to a former employee after a tribunal found she was bullied and harassed by her boss, leaving her with a psychological injury.
Vivienne Leggett, had worked for the horse racing club for more than 25 years as its sponsorship manager when a new CEO, Greg Rudolph, started in May 2016.
Within five months, she had become so distressed she had a breakdown and was diagnosed by multiple doctors to have a major depressive disorder.
In November, the Workers Compensation Commission heard Ms Leggett was intimidated, excluded and micro-managed by Mr Rudolph, who told her at a meeting: “You are not an employee or a contractor. You are a nothing”.
Ms Leggett said Mr Rudolph sent her lengthy and demanding emails, complained she was paid too much money, was frequently critical of her, and impeded her ability to do her job by not signing off on her requests.
She said the “last straw” came on October 9, 2016, when she went to the barriers for the final race of the day. She had previously been told she could “feel free” to go there “whenever”.
Just before the race, she said, Mr Rudolph called her and “screamed down the telephone with rage in his voice” that she needed to return to the office, then hung up before she had a chance to explain.
She felt “humiliated, harassed and bullied” and felt her boss was trying to push her out to hire someone on a lesser wage.
That night, she sent an email to Mr Rudolph to complain about his behaviour. He responded by telling her to come into the office with a support person to discuss her work performance.
Ms Leggett never returned to work. She visited a GP on October 10, where she was prescribed medication and sought stress leave. In later doctors’ reports, Ms Leggett reported suffering depression, fatigue, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts.
During the hearing, Mr Rudolph – the son-in-law of former chief steward Ray Murrihy – denied calling Ms Leggett a “nothing” and said he was always calm and courteous in his interactions with her.
He said his directions to Ms Leggett had been reasonable, he was not trying to hire someone else, and it was not in his nature to be harsh or arrogant.
The Workers Compensation Commission disagreed, with senior arbitrator Glenn Capel finding Ms Leggett’s employment was the “main contributing factor” to her psychological injury.
Mr Capel found Ms Leggett has been unable to work since October 10, 2016 as a result of the injury, which requires ongoing medical treatment.
The race club has been ordered to pay Ms Leggett the maximum compensation allowable under the Workers Compensation Act, as well as paying for her reasonably necessary medical expenses.
She will be paid $2058.10 per week from October 10, 2016 to December 7, 2017 – an amount totalling more than $120,000 – plus a “continuing” $2058.10 per week until early 2019.
In his judgment, Mr Capel said the tone of one email from Mr Rudolph to Ms Leggett seemed “like a cross-examination” and “could easily be viewed as an abusive inquisition”.
“In my view, the applicant’s evidence has been corroborated by the emails that passed between her and Mr Rudolph,” Mr Capel said. “I am satisfied that the events raised by the applicant did in fact occur.
“Therefore, I am comfortably satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the applicant was exposed to bullying and harassment during the course of her employment with the respondent.”
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