Kristy taught us something, we’re just not sure what yet
Room 22B of the Federal Court of NSW grew pretty crowded as Kristy Fraser-Kirk’s $37 million sexual harassment lawsuit against David Jones, its directors and ex-CEO Mark McInnes came to a head.
But if you went to the public gallery expecting to see any of the high-profile players you’d be sorely disappointed.
While the case itself had enough salacious and emotive elements to see it dramatically splashed across print, TV and online as a top-rating story, the scene in court was one carefully cloaked in the cool, passive-aggressive language of the legal profession.
Ms Fraser-Kirk may have been the face of the drama on all the news bulletins, but in the room it was her lawyer, Rachel Francois, who offered one of the few unscripted outbursts in lieu of her absent client.
“You would know if you had bothered to read the evidence,” she snapped at an equally frustrated Kate Eastman for David Jones as they battled their heavy caseloads, objections and last-minute amendments.
Competing media hacks deciphered the jargon and kept track of details like which witnesses were anonymous and which were not at any given moment.
We watched as Ms Francois flicked through two thick volumes of press coverage to argue this had led to her client suffering psychiatric harm - referred to in evidence as an “adjustment disorder”.
As one who had been reporting on the case this was awkward. It was even more unnerving when Justice Geoffrey Flick dismissed this with words to the effect of: “It’s pretty obvious why this is all over the papers. What’s your point?”
But as far as the law is concerned that’s all over now.
The case that gripped the nation very much in public was settled last Sunday in the private world where the terms of settlement “will not be disclosed”.
But while it may be tempting to do so, debating what went on behind closed doors is a futile task because it is fraught with heated emotions and based on an incomplete story.
We are now left with precisely those media reports and our impressions – rightly or wrongly - of them, as there is only so much that can or should be gained from the carefully crafted post-settlement statements that have appeared in recent days.
There will still be those out there who will be quick to judge – and without some final determination neither party seems to have emerged well.
When you saw photos of Ms Fraser-Kirk on holiday in New York after fleeing the country for fear of press intrusion, did you ponder the credibility of her claims as you blamed the media for taking the pictures from Facebook in the first place?
And when you read Mr McInnes’ text messages to Ms Fraser-Kirk begging her for compassion and admitting wrongdoing, did you decide his guilt and blame the media for choosing to reveal these deeply personal sentiments, even though they were made public in court documents?
For every internet poll that says 90 per cent of people think the case will inspire women to report sexual harassment, there are also experts only too willing to vouch the opposite.
If the case had run its course there would have been a determination on the facts.
Without this, perhaps the fairest thing we can do is to treat this case with the same respect a court of law would have done – and give our heated emotions a rest.
After all, despite the alleged courtroom theatre these are serious issues.
Will a woman be viewed differently in the workplace now? For better? For worse? Will a CEO think more carefully if faced with the prospect of committing one of those “serious errors of judgment”?
Will any of you (men and women) be more inclined now to report it if you ever feel you have been sexually harassed by someone in a position of power? Will any of you be more inclined to take such a report at face value?
Whatever you think of Ms Fraser-Kirk, Mr McInnes or David Jones hopefully we are all more aware of these issues in our own lives and will treat them with the seriousness they deserve.
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