A shroud of secrecy has been...
Hawkesbury Race Club ordered to pay bullied manager over $2.8million in compensation and legal fees
Updated story here to reflect total compensation and also comments from the lawyer involved in the case…
In a final judgement on compensation handed down on Monday in the long running case, Federal Court Judge Steven Rares ordered Hawkesbury Race Club to pay its previous sponsorship manager, Vivienne Leggett, a total of just over $2.8m million.
The case against HRC had been brought under the Fair Work Act, which came to a conclusion before Justice Rares in December 2021.
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.
The amounts ordered by Justice Rares total $2,816,506, which includes legal fees of $300,000 also to be paid by HRC, and includes $1.6m for past economic loss, $869,745 for future economic loss, plus $200,000 for “pain and suffering and the reduction in quality of life”.
Other amounts are for contraventions and unpaid entitlements under the Fair Work Act.
Justice Rares said in his published judgement back in February that Mrs 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.
Back in January, the embattled Club accepted the resignations of its three remaining directors and was put under the control of an administrator appointed by Racing NSW who effectively took over the running of the HRC.
Justice Rares said in his earlier judgement 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 in the February judgment, “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.”
In January 2017, before the termination of her employment, Mrs Leggett had indicated that she was prepared to accept $155,000 as a severance payment, which included her unpaid commissions and accrued leave entitlements.
According to documents produced by the race club and before the court, Racing NSW CEO Mr Peter V’Landys advised Mr Rudolph that he shouldn’t make any payments to Mrs Leggett other than her basic statutory entitlements, notwithstanding that she had been a highly valued employee of the club for over 25 years and had generated millions of dollars in revenue for the club.
Mrs Leggett also successfully sued the race club for unpaid annual leave and long service leave, claims that had Justice Rares questioning the morality of the club in failing to pay Mrs Leggett her entitlements, which the club’s own records confirmed she was owed since March 2017.
Lawyer Brett Gilbert of Gilberts Legal, who represented Mrs Leggett, said, “the sad thing about this case is that the race club and Racing NSW refused to accept any responsibility for what can only be described as disgraceful behaviour.
“Instead of investigating her complaints, they cast Mrs Leggett aside after 25 years loyal service and made her fight them in court for over 5 years to obtain her justice, unsuccessfully appealing every decision that went against them along the way, and never once acknowledging any wrongdoing.
“This case is a salutary warning to all employers that they need to take allegations of bullying seriously and that they should be proactive in monitoring and responding to the risks to mental health to which bullying can expose its employees.”
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