A $1.8 million negligence case by a retrenched contracts administrator against his former employer has been rejected by Victoria’s Supreme Court with the judge accepting that farting in the office is not bullying and just part of Australian humour.
Former employee David Hingst alleged his supervisor at Construction Engineering Australia in Melbourne repeatedly abused him, including by holding him down and farting on him.
He claimed it resulted in depression, anxiety and physical injuries, and claimed $1.8 million in damages as part of an unfair dismissal case.
But the defendant denied all the claims and Justice Rita Zammit did not believe Hingst was bullied at work, and in dismissing the claim, accepted that his redundancy was genuine.
Hingst alleged to the court that his supervisor, Greg Short, would “lift his bum and fart” on or at him, sometimes daily.
Short told the court while he remembered farting, he didn’t recall thrusting his backside directly at Hingst to deliberately offend him.
He said that there may have been some cultural misunderstanding because Hingst was German, and didn’t really understand that farting was just an Australian way of joking around.
Short said: “I knew that [Hingst] took quite offence to it and I – to be honest at the time I didn’t understand, but then obviously realising it was [Hingst] being [of] German descent, whereas us Australians are sort of brought up you sort of accept it or think oh it’s just – that’s what happens.”
The court heard that Hingst labelled Short “Mr Stinky” and at one stage sprayed him with deodorant.
Zammit rejected Hingst’s claims of “malicious” flatulence, saying it was “an offence that has its origins in cultural difference — rather than the sort of fear, distress, humiliation or victimisation that one would ordinarily expect in a bullying scenario.”
“I do not accept the plaintiff’s evidence about the frequency of Mr Short’s flatulence in the office or that it was targeted at the plaintiff,” she wrote in her judgment.
“The plaintiff said that, on another occasion, Mr Short passed wind when they were at the printer and apologised. The plaintiff complained that Mr Short’s behaviour was demeaning. He did not submit, however, that the flatulence was bullying but rather that it was humiliating and disgusting.”
The trial lasted 18 days and involved 15 witnesses.
The AFR has more.
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