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Qantas pilot’s sexual harassment lawsuit takes a hit

written by Naomi Neilson | August 16, 2023
Victor Pody shot this Qantas 787, VH-ZNJ, in special Qantas 100 livery.

The Federal Court has struck out documents prepared by a female Qantas pilot who alleged the major airline created and maintained a workplace that is “hostile to women”.

Davida Forshaw’s allegations that her career was hindered by her male colleagues and she was subjected to sexual harassment took a blow on Wednesday (16 August) morning after Qantas successfully argued her amended statement of claim was not valid.

Justice John Snaden said no part of Ms Forshaw’s workplace culture plea is “salvageable” but allowed her to redraw her pleadings.

“It is, in its entirety, likely to cause prejudice, embarrassment or delay, and it fails to disclose a reasonable cause of action. It should (and will) be stuck out in its entirety,” Justice Snaden ordered.

In the amended statement of claim, Ms Forshaw made several damning allegations against Qantas, including that it denied her “quiet enjoyment of her profession” and required her to perform at a higher standard during training than male colleagues.

She also named four Qantas employees as being partly responsible for the alleged hostile environment.

Qantas complained it was drawn in a “way that fails to properly articulate a sound cause of action” and submitted it was “premised upon conclusions that are not said to be established… elsewhere”.

The airline also complained Ms Forshaw’s allegation that the workplace is hostile was “unsatisfactorily imprecise”.

When counsel for Ms Forshaw submitted that what is or is not a workplace that is hostile is a “matter for submission” and could be aired at trial, Justice Snaden said this was “self-evidently unsound”.

“It is no answer to change that a pleading is impermissibly vague to say that it is open to the opposing party merely to deny what is alleged and, therefore, to let things play out as they may,” he said.

Ms Forshaw’s claims that Qantas created the hostile environment and allowed it to exist was also “inherently conclusory”.

“Other than by process of legal fiction, bodies corporate cannot engage in conduct. They cannot create or allow or fail to prevent anything,” Justice Snaden said.

“Who it was that is said to have done or not done the things that resulted in the creation, tolerance or failure that is alleged is wholly unexplained, as is the nature of their agency or relationship to the alleged corporate wrongdoer.”

If Ms Forshaw redraws her pleadings, Justice Snaden ordered the parties confer and agree on orders. If they are unsuccessful, a hearing will be set down.

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