newsCO.com.au–Real estate agency pays more than $100,000 to lawyer after harassment claim

September 17, 2017

Real estate firm, Marshall White has paid more than $100,000 to a prominent lawyer to settle claims she was repeatedly harassed by an agent and then offered the “deal of the century” by a director attempting to resolve the dispute.

The commercial barrister launched action in the Australian Human Rights Commission last month over allegations she was subjected to a series of sexually suggestive comments by the agent appointed to sell her Port Melbourne property in 2014.

The complaint included allegations of unlawful conduct and breaches of the Sex Discrimination Act.

But Marshall White has moved to avert Federal Court action by making the significant ex-gratia payment to their former client, who was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement as a condition of the settlement.

Last month, Fairfax Media revealed the agent had allegedly told the woman:  “I was thinking of you in the shower this morning,” within days of listing her Esplanade West home for sale.

When she returned from a holiday in the US on September 23, 2014, the agent allegedly said: “So how many concubines did you get in Vegas?” You’d have a few there wouldn’t you?… I would love to go to Vegas with you.”

The woman claimed she responded by saying: ” I don’t think your partner would approve of that.” 

On September 30, 2014, the Marshall White agent commented on the woman’s attire, allegedly saying: “That’s a nice sparkly top you are wearing, not that I’m looking at your boobs”.

“(He) proceeded to repeatedly stare at [her] chest during the 45-minute meeting which followed, offering to drive [her] home at the end of the meeting,” it was alleged in the complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. 

On another occasion, during a telephone call on October 17, the agent allegedly asked the woman what she ate.

“There is never any food in your fridge. I look in all my client’s fridges and there is never any food in yours,” he is alleged to have said, according to the complaint letter. 

When her property passed in at auction on October 24, the woman flagged her concerns about her agent’s conduct with a director at Marshall White’s office in Albert Park.

The woman demanded a meeting with a senior figure at Marshall White’s Armadale office, where she expressed concerns about her agent’s “inept, incompetent and inappropriate behaviour”.

When her property eventually sold in December 2014, Marshall White agreed to waive its commission, cancelled an outstanding advertising debt and arranged for the agent to cease all contact with the woman.

But at a meeting on February 2015, a Marshall White director arranged for her to find an investment property that would be “the deal of the century” in an apparent attempt to placate her, according to documents.

“(The director) told [her] that he had access to all the new listings (including off-market sales) and that he would be delighted to find her a suitable investment under $1.5 million in a blue-chip location with good prospects of capital growth,” the complaint letter states.

The director allegedly recommended a property in Hawthorn and, according to documents, conceded to the woman that “I’m telling you as a friend not an agent, we’ve stuffed it and over-quoted the property”.

According to the court documents, the director said the vendor needed to sell and if she bid he would be able to convince the vendor to sell on the day.

But about two hours after the auction, the property on Haines Street was sold to another buyer at a price below the reserve.

A Marshall White director and a public relations consultant appointed by the company did not respond to requests for comment.

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