A second high profile Canberra woman has revealed she is among the growing list of people who allege they were sexually harassed by former High Court judge Dyson Heydon.
ACT MLA Elizabeth Lee says that she was persistently sexually propositioned by Mr Heydon at the 2013 University of Canberra law ball – the same event at which then ACT Law Society president Noor Blumer says Mr Heydon felt her leg and later attempted to forcibly kiss her.
At the time Ms Lee was a law lecturer at the University and sat near Mr Heydon at the ball. The University of Canberra has confirmed that Mr Heydon, who had not long stepped down from the High Court at the time, was removed from the event after a student complained about his behaviour on the same night
Ms Lee, who sits in the ACT Legislative Assembly as a Liberal Member for Kurrajong told the Canberra Times yesterday that she was inspired by the actions of the judge’s associates who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment by Mr Heydon, made public last week.
“It must have taken so much for these women to speak up and get the ball rolling on the investigation that has led to this being uncovered,” she said.
“And my heart really did go out to them and when I first read about their circumstances… I suppose it flooded back memories of that moment that I encountered seven years ago.”
Ms Lee said that she felt helpless when Mr Heydon issued sexually suggestive invitations to her. He stood close to her on the dance floor, told her his room number, repeatedly urged her to go there and told her a key would be left for her.
The incident left her shocked, feeling isolated and conscious of Mr Heydon’s enormous professional power and reputation.
Ms Lee says that revelations concerning Mr Heydon’s behaviour at the law ball in 2013 had prompted similar recollections from a number of women, each of whom had presumed their experience was an isolated incident.
Noor Blumer’s decision to make her experience public had convinced Ms Lee that she should also speak out. Ms Blumer has described herself as “dumbfounded” when Mr Heydon told her that she was the sexiest women he had ever met and began trying to feel her leg. She attempted to evade him without drawing attention to what was happening at the formal event.
A number of Mr Heydon’s former associates have levelled accusations of serial sexual harassment at him and three have announced their intentions to sue him.
More than 100 former associates who worked at the High Court during Mr Heydon’s tenure have been contacted by the Court, following an investigation carried out by the former Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, Dr Vivenne Thom.
Dr Thom’s investigation made six recommendations, including that the court develops an HR policy for personal staff of judges; should review its induction processes; should appoint an “appropriate person” to form a closer working relationship with associates to act as a supervisor, provide support and act as a conduit to the court’s chief executive and principal registrar. Associates should also not have an obligation to attend social functions.
The president of the ACT’s Women Lawyers Association, Gabrielle Mildren, told Region Media this week that the association was well aware of sexual harassment allegations within the profession in the ACT, characterising it as “a pervasive problem that continues to disproportionately affect women lawyers.”
WLA surveyed women in the legal profession in 2018 and found that more than half of those who responded had been subject to sexual harassment in their workplace. Nearly half said that they had witnessed another person being sexually harassed while at work and Ms Mildren says that reports of sexual harassment feature regularly in WLA ACT’s surveys on pay and conditions.
“I think one of the biggest problems the profession has is that people don’t report. Nothing can happen because you can’t take action unless you have an allegation. And it’s really hard to come forward when women know their complaints can have a huge impact on their careers.”
The ACT’s Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC wrote to the Australian Federal Police this week with “a strong recommendation” that officers should investigate laying criminal charges against Mr Heydon.
Mr Heydon has not responded to requests for comment from media although he has vigorously denied the allegations being made against him by multiple women.