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Hawkesbury Race Club “effectively destroyed her life” – Federal judge orders $200,000 award payment

Feb 3, 2022


Federal Court Judge Steven Rares has handed down a scathing judgement against an ex-CEO of Hawkesbury Race Club and the Club itself in a case won by the club’s long-serving sponsorship manager, Vivienne Leggett.


Last month the embattled Club accepted the resignations of its three remaining directors and is now under the control of an administrator appointed by Racing NSW who have effectively taken over the running of the HRC.


The case against HRC had been brought under the Fair Work Act, which came to a conclusion before Justice Rares in December. This week he handed down his judgement.


Mrs Leggett had previously won a case on the same issues before the Workers Compensation Commission, back in November 2017. The WCC made a judgement in December 2017 which saw HRC ordered to pay Mrs Leggett just over $120,000 for workplace bullying.


Justice Rares said in his published judgement this Wednesday that Ms Leggett left her employment at HRC, “because Greg Rudolph, whom the Club employed as its chief executive officer (CEO) in May 2016, bullied and harassed Mrs Leggett from the outset of his role”.


“In my opinion, the Club’s conduct, through Mr Rudolph, effectively destroyed Mrs Leggett’s life,” said Justice Rares.


Mrs Leggett joined HRC, in January 1991 when she was 28. She worked for the club for more than 25 years, until 15 March 2017 when HRC ‘repudiated’ her contract.


Justice Rares said that expert psychiatrists agreed that Mr Rudolph’s conduct towards Mrs Leggett caused her to suffer “a significant depressive disorder with anxiety that has left her unemployable since 10 October 2016 until now”.


Within five months of Mr Rudolph arriving at HRC, Mrs Leggett became so distressed she had a breakdown and was diagnosed by two specialist doctors to have a major depressive disorder.


In the November 2017 case – and also repeated in this latest Federal Court case – the Workers Compensation Commission had heard Mrs 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”.


Mr Rudolph had denied he said that, but in his judgement, Justice Rares said, based on the evidence, “I reject Mr Rudolph’s evidence.”


Mrs 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 told the Workers Compensation Commission the “last straw” came on October 9, 2016, when she went to the race 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.

Mrs 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, Mrs Leggett reported suffering depression, fatigue, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts.


In his judgement giving reasons for his decision, Justice Rares said, “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.


“That conduct caused a very serious psychiatric illness that may never be cured, or ameliorated to any significant degree.


“Sustained bullying is well understood in the community as capable of causing psychiatric injury to its victim.


“That injury occurred in no small part because Mrs Leggett’s breaking point was Mr Rudolph’s treatment of her on 9 and 10 October 2016. That included his reaction in his 10 October email that he sent to her because she exercised a workplace right. He subsequently acted to drive the nail home later… by persisting in his bullying conduct throughout the balance of Mrs Leggett’s employment, ignoring the Club’s contractual and statutory obligations to her and taking adverse action against her because she had both taken sick leave and exercised her workplace right to make a complaint about his behaviour.”


Justice Rares added, “I am of opinion that Mrs Leggett should be awarded $200,000 [under the Fair Work Act] for the loss she has suffered by reason of the Club’s contraventions of the Act.


“For these reasons, Mrs Leggett is entitled to be paid her unpaid entitlements under the Fair Work Act and her contract of employment.


“She is also entitled to recover work injury damages for the Club’s negligence in failing to protect her from the risk of psychiatric injury, and compensation for its multiple contraventions of the Fair Work Act.


“There will need to be a further hearing to fix penalties for the Club’s contraventions of the Fair Work Act and Long Service Leave Act,” said Justice Rares.


The full judgement can be found here:


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