I’ve been watching closely as Kristy Fraser-Kirk has sought compensation from David Jones ex CEO Mark McInnes for sexual harrassment. It’s always interesting when these stories make the headlines because the best interest of the victims is often disregarded by the media. This case has been a prime example. Here’s a basic outline of what has happened over the last few months.
On June 20, 2010 The Courier Mail reported:
MARK McInnes has been described as a playboy and a womaniser who was rarely without female company.
But the fate of the man at the centre of one of Australia’s biggest corporate scandals is linked to just two women: his pregnant partner Lisa Kelly, who appears determined to stand by her man, and publicist Kristy Fraser-Kirk, whose damning allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr McInnes led to his resignation as chief executive of retail giant David Jones.
Ms Fraser-Kirk, an attractive 25-year-old blonde from Sydney’s North Shore, is on leave from the retail giant since she alerted its board to allegations of Mr McInnes’s misconduct at two work functions.
The Sunday Mail can reveal one of two alleged incidents occurred during a lavish party for beauty product supplier La Prairie on June 7, where Mr McInnes, 45, is said to have attempted to kiss his publicist. She rejected his advances.
It followed an incident at a David Jones’ corporate function in late May, where he is believed to have made similar advances.
While sources close to Mr McInnes attempted to play down the incidents, they were enough for Ms Fraser-Kirk to call in her lawyers and four days later she took sick leave.
She is considering legal action, with Harmers Workplace Lawyers assembling a first-class legal team.
The DJs board had an emergency meeting to discuss the situation last weekend. For a company of which 70 per cent of its employees are women, the board decided action needed to be taken. (abbreviated version)
That very same day, The Sunday Telegraph reported this response to the claims:
Mr McInnes’ resignation has sparked debate amongst David Jones’ high-profile clientele and fashion designers. Leading designer Alannah Hill said she was “devastated” Mr McInnes had been forced to resign.
“It’s a total overreaction. It seems such a shame that this incident has brought him down,” she said.
“I had utter respect for him and I liked that he liked women.”
Not a great example of standing up for your fellow sister Ms Hill.
Mr McInnes then resigned and Ms Fraser-Kirk filed a $37 million legal claim against David Jones and Mr McInnes.
August 3, Ms Fraser-Kirk issued the following statement as published by Business Day:
Warning: graphic abuse description
“I’m a young woman standing here today simply because I said it wasn’t OK, because I said that this should never happen to me or to anyone,” she said yesterday, after her lawyers filed a landmark $37 million legal claim against David Jones and its disgraced former chief executive Mark McInnes.
But, rather than leaving the matter shrouded, Ms Fraser-Kirk has invited the full glare of legal and public attention, detailing her account of sexual harassment.
It was during a lunch hosted by David Jones in May to celebrate its renewal of a contract with the horse trainer Gai Waterhouse that Ms Fraser-Kirk claims she was first harassed by Mr McInnes.
Mr McInnes allegedly urged her to try a dessert, describing it as like ”a f— in the mouth” before placing his hand under her clothing and touching her bra strap.
Ms Fraser-Kirk alleges he also repeatedly asked her back to his Bondi home ”with the clear implication that such a visit would be for the purpose of sexual intercourse,” the statement of claim said.
He did so on one occasion while lifting her up in a hug, in front of the general manager of David Jones public relations, Anne-Maree Kelly, and Ms Fraser-Kirk’s supervisor, Tahli Koch, she alleges.
During the second occasion at a function for La Prairie cosmetics at Tivoli Villa, a luxurious Rose Bay home, Mr McInnes allegedly twice tried to kiss her on the mouth before placing his hand on her stomach and on the bottom of her bra.
On both occasions Ms Fraser-Kirk claims she made it clear his advances were unwanted.
The following day she alleges he phoned her to meet him for dinner or a drink before saying, ”I could have had guaranteed sex with that brunette last night [at the party] but I wanted you.”
Mr McInnes’s whereabouts are unknown but he is rumoured to have sought treatment in the Meadows drug and rehabilitation clinic, in Wickenburg, a small town about 100 kilometres north-west of Phoenix, Arizona.
The clinic treats various forms of substance abuse as well as compulsive disorders such as gambling and sex addiction. Tiger Woods is believed to have checked himself in for sex rehab this year. Others clients are said to include supermodels Elle Macpherson and Kate Moss, as well as actors Michael Douglas and Drew Barrymore.
Nursing staff yesterday declined to confirm whether Mr McInnes was at the clinic when asked by the Herald.
Mr McInnes had also been involved in sexual misconduct towards other female employees to which the company had turned a blind eye, Ms Fraser-Kirk alleges.
One incident occurred at the Caulfield Cup in Melbourne in October 2009 when he allegedly pulled the woman into a ”lingering hug” and kissed her on her neck. In April he allegedly asked the same woman at a racing event to touch his trouser pocket, saying, ”It’s quite hard down there”, before inviting her home.
Mr McInnes allegedly sent text messages to another woman, telling her she looked ”absolutely amazing today. You looked so hot. This is for your eyes only. Delete this message as soon as you’ve received it”.
Another woman who disclosed Mr McInnes’s alleged harassment of other female staff was told that was standard conduct by him.
The statement of claim also alleges that Ms Kelly had to deal with another woman’s mother over allegations Mr McInnes sexually harassed her.
Ms Fraser-Kirk claims when she had complained to Ms Kelly about the first of Mr McInnes’s alleged advances she was allegedly told: ”Next time that happens, you just need to be very clear and say, ‘No, Mark’ and he’ll back off.”
The $37 million lawsuit against David Jones and Mr McInnes lodged in the Federal Court claims a culture of sexual harassment existed within the company and that it knew of at least three other incidents before Mr McInnes’s resignation in which he had made unwanted sexual advances towards female employees.
As part of the claim Ms Fraser-Kirk is seeking punitive damages of $35 million from David Jones, or 5 per cent of its profits while Mr McInnes was chief executive. She is also seeking 5 per cent of Mr McInnes’s salary and benefits as chief executive between 2003 and 2010, estimated at $2 million.
If she wins, it is believed it would be the first time punitive damages would be awarded for sexual harassment in an Australian workplace. Ms Fraser- Kirk has said she would give that money to a charity that supports victims of sexual harassment and bullying.
David Jones is yet to file a defence but said in a statement yesterday that it would vigorously defend the claims.
Before he was appointed chief executive, Mr McInnes had allegedly been reported to his superior for ”his bullying aggression”, Ms Fraser-Kirk alleges. This ”bullying approach” was adopted by certain members of his management team and had led to a reluctance by staff to raise concerns about their conduct.
Following her complaints to management about the La Prairie party Ms Fraser-Kirk was allegedly told by Ms Kelly and Damian Eales, the group general manager of financial services and marketing, to go home. A meeting was then arranged for her and Mr McInnes to attend.
That night Mr McInnes allegedly sent her a text message: ”I want you to have a fantastic career at David Jones.” But Ms Fraser-Kirk contacted her lawyer and the meeting did not happen.
Yesterday Ms Fraser-Kirk said she had been forced to walk away from a career that she loved and a company she believed in due to the alleged sexual harassment.
”I believed I could have gone far if my career had been able to continue,” she said, flanked by her parents, Alex and Sally, and her boyfriend, Chris Drew.
”Put simply, my whole life has now been turned upside down.” (abbreviated version)
On October 19, The Age reported on the alleged other victims:
Blonde and smart, Kristy Fraser-Kirk was not the only female David Jones employee who found herself the object of Mark McInnes’s affections.
But according to the David Jones board, which yesterday was summoned by its largest shareholder to explain the scandal, Ms Fraser-Kirk was the only woman who made an official complaint about McInnes’s behaviour during his seven years as chief executive.
Despite his spotless record, Mr McInnes and the board considered Ms Fraser-Kirk’s still unspecified complaint so damning he resigned immediately, turning his back on millions of dollars worth of entitlements and fleeing Sydney with pregnant girlfriend Lisa Kelly.
Yesterday The Age learnt of several women on David Jones’s staff who had personal experiences with McInnes and his ”unbecoming behaviour”.
”I did hear things about Mark and the girls in the office and I’m sure a lot of people would have looked at me being friendly with Mark and wondered, ‘Why is this young girl so close to the CEO?’,” one of the women told The Age. ”It was just the way it was, but I didn’t really have a problem with that.”
But one of her former colleagues said the woman, who worked in the DJs Sydney head office and asked not to be identified, had told her McInnes had ”hit on” her during a routine meeting. ”She seemed pretty shaken up about it when she told me afterwards,” her colleague told The Age.
Yesterday the David Jones board of directors tried to distance itself as speculation mounted that the law firm representing Ms Fraser-Kirk, Harmers Workplace Lawyers, would soon unearth other accounts. (abbreviated version)
Then came the counter allegations (not all that original!) as reported by News.com.au on September 25, 2010:
It was David Jones publicist Kristy Fraser-Kirk who hit on him and not the other way around, according to the company’s former CEO Mark McInnes.
He only tried to kiss Kristy Fraser-Kirk at a David Jones lunch after she “made comments of a sexual nature” to him, he claimed in his first court defence of her claims of sexual misconduct.
David Jones also hit back, claiming that at one company lunch, when Ms Fraser-Kirk said she had to fend off Mr McInnes’ unwanted sexual advances, she was seen flirting with him and “seen smiling as she walked away” from him after he hugged her as she left. It was also claimed he didn’t only hug her, he hugged other people at the lunch in the same way.
September 27, 2010 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Ms Fraser-Kirk’s mental health:
The intrusive media frenzy surrounding the David Jones sexual harassment case has induced a psychiatric illness in complainant Kristy Fraser-Kirk, who now regularly “checks under her car”, a court has been told.
Lawyers for the 27-year-old say that, if other women linked to the case were named, they would be put at similar risk.
Ms Francois told Federal Court Justice Geoffrey Flick that Ms Fraser-Kirk has developed an “adjustment disorder” as a result of publicity about the case.
“It is my opinion that the onset of her psychiatric illness … the role of the media has had some impact on her health,” she said.
Ms Fraser-Kirk’s partner, her family, friends and colleagues had been approached by the media in relation to the case, and the attention at one point had prompted her to flee Australia, Ms Francois said.
“Should their names be released, [the witnesses] will attract interest of the kind which has contributed to the development of [Ms Fraser-Kirk’s] psychiatric condition,” she said.
Media coverage of the case, which stretched to the international stage, was “unsurprising”, Ms Francois said, as it involved allegations against a “high-flying and prominent Australian executive”.
“It is a classic underdog case – this is one young woman taking on a corporation.”
Justice Flick accepted that there had been “a degree of intrusion by the media into at least the lives of [Ms Fraser-Kirk] and [Mr McInnes]”. (abbreviated version)
Finally, the matter was settled in court this week with Ms Fraser-Kirk being awarded $850K. The media couldn’t help but continue to judge and criticise the victim. Headings like this one continued to be published by major news outlets;
David Jones sexual harassment case settled – Kristy’s smile is worth $850K
and discussion abounded as to what she should do with the money. Since when was the victim the problem? I thought it was the perpertrator who should be in hot water.
I have heard many people say that the multitude millions she was asking for, was ludicrous. I’ve even heard someone make the comment that “she didn’t even lose here job – he did,” as if losing a job is in anyway worse than being the victim of sexual harrassment or molestation.
This case has clearly highlighted societies attitude to sexual assault. It seems that sexual assault is still not seen as a serious crime by a large percentage of our population. Despite the fact that approximately one out of every four Australians have reported being sexually abused, it is still a widely held belief that it’s not a big deal. I haven’t heard comments alluding to the age-old belief that girls often bring it on themselves but is this attitude still alive in our communities? Perhaps. And if it is, where does that leave us?
Sexual abuse is unlike any other type of abuse. I’m not saying it’s worse than others, but it’s definitely different. Sexual abuse is not only a physical thing, it’s an event which affects a victims soul and spirit. It leaks its poison right through an entire body, mind and soul and stays there, forever haunting the victim. Sexual abuse is an issue to be taken seriously and the media’s treatment of cases like Kristy Fraser-Kirk’s only makes it harder for victims to come forward. Ms Fraser-Kirk suffered harrassment by the media, her story was reported countless times by reporters who were obviously dubious of her story and she had to put up with the general attitude of “She’s asking for too much. She must be after his money. It was that bad surely!” All this, not surprisingly, lead to her suffering alledgedly from a ‘mental illness’.
Ms Fraser-Kirk wasn’t awarded $37 million in compensation (I didn’t think it was likely she would) but I love it that she asked for such an astronomical figure. I don’t know her motives, nor do I know the full details of the allegations but one thing is sure; because she asked for so much and from such an influental man, the story stayed in the media for months. Employers and employees alike saw that sexual abuse is a BIG deal, whether we like it or not. So for that, I say – good on you Kristy, shout it loud from the roof tops and don’t take no for an answer. Sexual abuse is wrong.
What I didn’t like about this case is that it’s yet another example of why so many victims of sexual abuse never come forward and the perpetrators are never charged.
What do you think about how this whole thing has been handled? Do you think it’s becoming increasing difficult for victims of sexual abuse to come forward with their allegations?