The Federal Court judge presiding over a sexual harassment case brought against Oracle Australia has urged the parties to settle the matter out of court before hearings resume in September.
EDIT: This article has been updated 02/04/2012. See below for details.
Justice Robert Buchanan urged the settlement talks at the close of the first round of hearings in the Federal Court today.
Former Oracle program manager Rebecca Richardson is suing the company for $450,000 over alleged sexual discrimination and breach of contract. The suit was filed in July 2010.
Richardson alleged that a colleague - Oracle consulting sales manager Randol Tucker - made inappropriate comments and harassed her over a sustained period during 2008 while both undertook an IT project for ANZ Bank. She also alleged she was effectively demoted following complaints and an internal investigation.
Oracle and Tucker have denied the allegations.
Justice Buchanan said a judgment in the case is likely before the end of the year.
“It goes without saying this case has got to finish this year,” he said.
“I do encourage the parties to make – in the light of the evidence that has now been given and the way things are unfolding, to each make an assessment, a hard-headed practical assessment of their own situation, and see if it is not possible for this matter to be resolved to the – if not to the mutual satisfaction - at least with the agreement of all the parties before we resume.
“If anybody thought that sending the matter back to mediation would assist in that process, I would be prepared to make such an order or to make facilities available.”
Though the parties are set to meet again for two days in May, Tucker's appearance in the case - and cross-examination by Richardson's legal team - is unlikely to occur until the September hearings.
He was initially scheduled to provide evidence and submit to questioning in Sydney today but that appeared to be delayed amid concerns from Oracle counsel Elizabeth Raper that beginning Tucker's evidence this week would effectively leave him under questioning for five months.
Richardson's barrister Rachel Francois used initial full hearings on the matter to present testimonies from Richardson's friends, neighbours and de facto partner that indicated she had shown a significant change in mood and confidence since the alleged incident.
A psychological report by Dr Ronnie Zuessman concluded Richardson had suffered chronic depression and anxiety as a result of the alleged harassment, as well as the sustained consequences of media coverage and ongoing litigation.
Previously “vivacious and very friendly”, Richardson had become “distressed” and had started smoking again, according to a neighbour testifying this week in court.
‘Loved her job’
Richardson had worked at Oracle Australia since January 2003, after joining from the database software maker's US office. She had become a program manager in October 2007, following a series of promotions.
Ann O’Toole, Richardson’s neighbour during 2008, quoted Richardson as saying that “she thought she was going to go places with that company” before the incident.
Richardson’s partner Adrian Dunphy said the applicant had built real friendships with her Oracle colleagues, as evidenced at a Thanksgiving barbeque held during 2007.
“It wasn’t just a social event where you feel compelled to invite work colleagues,” he said.
“They mixed, they talked, they didn’t talk shop. They were thoroughly entertained and they all got on.”
Dunphy claimed Richardson was “the biggest Oracle-ophile I’ve known” while at the company.
However, that love for her job had also held her back on making a complaint about the alleged harassment or from leaving, the court heard.
Despite the incident allegedly occurring in April 2008, a formal complaint was not made to human resources until November that year.
“She said [complaining] would probably affect her prospects and also her reputation,” O’Toole said.
“She made a decision that she’d probably have to leave the company, that she didn’t have any future [at Oracle].”
O’Toole said Richardson also wanted to avoid being labelled “that girl” within Oracle Australia.
Dunphy said Richardson had felt she had been “sidelined from the good projects” after her formal complaint to HR, despite an internal investigation upholding her gripes with Tucker.
Tucker remains in his current position at the organisation.
Oracle's counsel Raper repeatedly questioned Richardson’s partner Dunphy over discussions around a new job for Richardson after she handed in her complaint to human resources in late 2008.
She called on Dunphy to defend emailed conversations subpoenaed for the trial showing the pair discussing the job offer from EMC during December, a position Richardson ultimately took up.
“I’d spent a long period watching Rebecca just be eaten up by what was happening at Oracle and she loved that place so much and she was fighting to work out, 'Should I stick in with it or should I just let it be and go elsewhere'? I was trying to say to her, ‘Baby, just get on with your life. We have to’,” he said.
“She was very upset through this whole process. I knew how much it was burning her that she wanted to stay at Oracle.”