A Melbourne supermarket pizza supplier has been ordered to pay a former employee more than $53,000 after she was sexually harassed by a male colleague who stared at her breasts.
Sudesh Kumari was working at Della Rosa Fresh Foods in 2017 – a pizza manufacturer whose products are stocked at major supermarkets such as IGA, Coles and Woolworths – when she says a male coworker leered at her breasts while talking to her.
She said the interaction made her feel “uncomfortable, objectified and degraded” and caused her to suffer humiliation, distress, pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment and life.
“I felt like I was not being respected and this upset me,” she said, according to Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing documents.
When reporting this to her manager, Kumari faced a second blow and was subjected to racial discrimination when she was told: “You are Indian, I don’t like Indians, they always cause problems”.
Before this, Kumari said she felt like part of the team but the racist comments changed everything.
After making her initial complaint, Kumari said she was forced to take annual leave during the investigation, despite wanting to save her holidays to visit family in India.
On the morning of her return to work, she was transferred from the company’s bakery worksite to a new location arranging pizza toppings, against her wishes.
Kumari refused to accept the transfer and after not returning to work, her employment was terminated in February 2018.
She also said she was the only person required to attend the office of Della Rosa director Emilio de Lorso, while the coworker she complained about was not made to attend. She said she felt management did not believe her claims.
Tribunal member Louise Johnson accepted Kumari’s evidence and rejected Della Rosa’s submission that any penalty should not exceed $500, arguing that an award that little would trivialise the conduct complained of.
“The initial contravention by Ms Kumari’s fellow employee could have been simply and effectively ameliorated but was actually exacerbated by the conduct of Della Rosa’s management,” Johnson said.
In awarding her compensation this week, Johnson found Kumari had been subject to sexual harassment, victimisation and unfavourable treatment due to her race.
Kumari was awarded $38,000 in compensation for non-economic loss and $15,241 for economic loss.