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Harassed Oracle employee wins case, cops huge legal bill

'A very high price to pay for her victory' says Judge

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Rebecca Richardson, the former Oracle employee who recently won a case against the company over sexual harassment committed by a former colleague, found out late last week that it was a pyrrhic victory after being hit with a monster legal bill.

Richardson's case against Oracle, which was liable for the actions of a harassing employee, was decided in February, when she won $AUD18,000 in damages after a series of suggestive comments made by a male colleague and a weak response by Oracle Australia. The matter returned to court in early April for a decision on costs. During those proceedings it emerged that Richardson had rejected settlement offers from Oracle for more than the $18,000 she was eventually awarded.

Justice Buchanan's decision points out that Oracle's best offer, $85,000, would still have left Richardson with a big legal bill as she had run up over $224,000 in expenses at the time of that offer.

But Australian law makes it hard to recover costs incurred after an offer is rejected, especially if any subsequent costs award is lower than a settlement offer.

Oracle paid the costs up to the point of the offer, in 2010, but Richardson is now left to pay much of the costs for proceedings after that date, including Oracle's costs.

Justice Buchanan offered the following observation about the case:

“Subject to the outcome of any appeal, the final outcome of these proceedings, in financial terms at least, will probably be devastating for Ms Richardson both financially and personally. Although the findings made in the earlier judgment provide public vindication of her position, she will remain solely responsible for the payment of the bulk of her own legal costs and obliged to pay a high proportion of the legal costs of the respondents. That will be a very high price to pay for her victory.”

That price will likely run into tens of thousands of dollars, but Buchanan said “There is no occasion, either, to diminish the level of protection to which the respondents are entitled by reference to the fact that Ms Richardson’s claims to have been sexually harassed were, without exception, upheld.”

The Reg has asked Oracle to comment on the story and will bring you news of any statement as it arrives. ®

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