Tuesday, July 16, 2024

AUT apologises over handling of sexual harassment complaint

Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has issued an unreserved apology to academic, Dr Marisa Paterson, over its handling of her complaint of sexual harassment by a former AUT staff member.

The AUT has acknowledged its investigation into Dr Paterson’s 2019 complaint, which included evidence of two years of sexual harassment, stalking and bullying, was inadequate.

An independent review was subsequently undertaken by Queen’s Counsel, Kate Davenport, whose report and 36 recommendations, which found that the complaints processes to resolve sexual harrassment at AUT were inadequate, have been accepted by the University.

“On behalf of Auckland University of Technology (AUT), I would like to express our unreserved apology to you for our handling of your complaint of sexual harassment by a former AUT staff member,” the apology by AUT Chancellor, Rob Campbell states.

“In particular, we recognise that our investigation into your complaint was not adequate and our communication with you throughout the process failed to recognise and reflect the very sensitive and serious nature of the issues and the impact on you.

“We would also like to recognise your courage in coming forward, and to thank you for providing the opportunity for AUT to learn from this and initiate a process of culture change which we are confident will improve the experience of people learning and working in the university. We hope that our actions will be viewed as reflecting a survivor-centred approach and positive shift in institutional culture.

“We trust that this genuine apology will support you in your pathway forward.”

In a statement, AUT said the settlement was a tangible step in the university’s progress towards a more inclusive culture.

Dr Paterson (Photo: Twitter).

In response to today’s apology, Dr Paterson said said her “desperation” in deciding to lodge a formal complaint was “extreme”.

“My career was everything to me and I knew that making a complaint would have significant implications,” she said in a statement today.

“The independent report that was commissioned by AUT and this apology, are public recognition that I did not experience the appropriate or adequate response to the harm I experienced.

“In addition to the sexual harassment, the harm that is imposed on an individual to fight an institution for an adequate response, in public, is significant. I have suffered long-term distress and implications from what I experienced and what I had to do to seek justice and resolution.

“But today, what I went through is being publicly recognised. And my voice today is being heard – most importantly by AUT. It is accounted for and it is being recognised as an equal through this joint statement. My statement today is not one of forgiveness. This is a public step in leadership.

“This can never happen again.

“I believe my experience will contribute to AUT, and hopefully other NZ workplaces, being safer worker environments- and that does give me some peace. I look forward to seeing AUT as a leader in New Zealand tertiary institutions and workplaces to ensure that they uphold the highest standards of behaviour and respect in their workplace and beyond.

“My story is important, and this joint statement is important in precedent, behaviour and respect.”

Dr Paterson responds to the apology on Twitter.

Senior solicitor, Nicole Browne of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings said the settlement was recognition of the responsibilities employers have under the Human Rights Act 1993 to prevent harassment and discrimination.

“Dr Paterson has been an inspiration to work with and her commitment to transparency and accountability will have a lasting impact on sexual harassment claims,” said Ms Browne.

“Sexual harassment in the workplace often involves internal processes and investigations that are kept secret and do not serve the integrity or dignity of the survivor. We are pleased to have reached a result for Dr Paterson and AUT through the Human Rights jurisdiction.”

In a statement, AUT said it acknowledges culture change takes time and says the organisation continues to learn from previous experience.

“The Independent Review Recommendations provide a blueprint to work towards a culture where everyone is valued and has the opportunity to succeed,” it said.

“Work to respond to the 36 recommendations made by Kate Davenport QC is well progressed, including the development of a stand-alone sexual harassment policy, a new three tier complaints process, and training for all managers.

“AUT considers that the actions it has taken, including its apology to Dr Paterson, reflect the positive shift in institutional culture, and a survivor-centred approach.”

Dr Paterson resides in Australia, where she is the Australian Labor party Member for Murrumbidgee in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

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