An important test case is under way in the Australian Federal Court which will determine whether a woman can sue for being exposed to male colleagues viewing computer pornography at work.

Kirsty Fletcher, an air traffic controller alleges she was subjected to bullying and sex discrimination by Air Services Australia (ASA) in proceedings lodged in the Federal Court in Melbourne.

Part of the case will determine whether a female can sue under the Federal Sex Discrimination Act when she has been exposed to male colleagues viewing computer pornography at work.

The law firm representing her, Maurice Blackburn, is seeking access to a large volume of material from ASA, including pornography.

It alleges a “substantial” amount of pornographic material was stored on the ASA computer system and that an ASA manager distributed it to other managers and staff regularly for years.

The manager concerned was dismissed.

Maurice Blackburn principal Josh Bornstein said women exposed to pornographic posters at work can pursue claims of unlawful discrimination and it should be no different where the images are displayed on staff computer screens.

“Our client was exposed to pornographic sexual images while at work. We believe that by allowing this to occur, Air Services breached the Federal Sex Discrimination Act,” he said in a statement.

Comment

This is another case of changing workplace standards catching up with the past. It used to be commonplace when the internet and email became accessible in the workplace for mainly male colleagues to show and share pornography.

For most of us this was a stomach churner, but the active participants thought it was highly amusing. Well now workers who suffered in silence may now be able to have their revenge on employers who either turned a blind eye or participated in the practice.

Only when employers are held to account can the attitudes of the workplace and society change. In the past anyone objecting to the sharing of pornographic images in the workplace would often be ridiculed.

Now the boot is on the other foot and there is no defence of “everyone was doing it.” While the ruling of the Federal Court is a long way off, the fact the case is being heard is a timely reminder to employers and employees that dodgy stuff they are allowing to happen in the workplace now, may one day be exposed.

Most of the cases of staff looking at and sharing pornography would have been avoided if management had been willing to simply enforce their own policies. Once things are not dealt with then there is usually a much more serious reckoning further down the line.