Oracle Australia sued for sexual harassment

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Oracle Australia sued for sexual harassment

Allegedly occurred in front of employees, partners and a customer.

A former Oracle Australia program manager is seeking an estimated $450,000 in damages for alleged sexual discrimination and breach of contract.

Lawyers for applicant Rebecca Richardson, now an employee at storage vendor EMC, and the respondents - Oracle Australia and one of its consulting sales managers, Randol Tucker - appeared in the Federal Court in Sydney last Friday.

The case will likely be heard next year, unless an out-of-court settlement is reached sooner.

Richardson, who joined Oracle Australia from the database software maker's US office as a technical consultant in January, 2003 became program manager of the Asia-Pacific technology consulting practice in October, 2007 following a series of promotions.

The bulk of the work related to projects in Victoria and required frequent travel from her home base of Sydney to Melbourne, Richardson alleged in her statement of claim.

A project involved managing a "large proposal for consulting services being developed by Oracle for the ANZ Bank".

Tucker, based in Melbourne, was the consulting sales manager for the project. He was part of a "primary team" of up to 12 Oracle staff working on the deal.

Richardson alleged that she clashed with Tucker in their first two meetings about the project in April, 2008.

"The disagreements were about how the project would be structured, and the risks associated with alternate structures," Richardson's statement of claim alleges.

In the months that followed, Richardson alleged Tucker "made unwelcome comments and suggestions of a sexual nature".

Richardson also claimed that an internal investigation urged her to attend a meeting with Tucker to "resurrect the past relationship" with him and accept his apology - and that when she refused, Oracle "demoted" her.

She quit the company in April last year.

Oracle Australia and Tucker are yet to file their defences.

Harassment allegations

Richardson claimed the harassment escalated between April and November, 2008, in private and in front of of colleagues, channel partners and "representatives from the ANZ Bank".

Richardson said she was the only woman on the project.

During their second meeting, she alleged Tucker said: "Rebecca, you and I fight so much, I think we were husband and wife in our last life".

She said Tucker then asked: "How do you think our marriage was? I bet the sex was hot."

"When the applicant indicated these comments were unwelcome, Tucker said she ‘couldn't take a joke'," the statement of claim alleged. It was claimed two Oracle employees working on the project were present during the exchange.

About a month later, Richardson told Tucker she was taking a day off, to which Tucker allegedly responded: "We should go away for a dirty weekend".

Richardson also alleged he propositioned her for dinner repeatedly and said, "You know you love me, you know you want me" in a phone conversation.

Richardson said she told Tucker repeatedly "words to the effect, ‘You are disgusting'."

She said Tucker's conduct made her feel "offended, humiliated and undermined and caused her distress, anxiety and depression".

First directions

Lawyers for both sides argued that the matter should remain in the court's jurisdiction and not be passed to the Federal Magistrates Court.

"In my submission, [the case] raises some difficult issues that are best raised in this court," Barrister Caroline Spruce, acting for Richardson, said.

One of those issues is an "implied term" allegedly in Richardson's contract at Oracle, that the vendor "would not conduct itself, without reasonable and proper cause, in a manner likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence between the parties".

Justice Robert Buchanan agreed that the Federal Court might be able to provide some "clarity" on the issues raised.

And he foreshadowed that "this is a case which, against [Tucker], will turn on what will likely be contested versions of conversations".

He set a second directions hearing for 15 October.

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