Prostitute wins $25,000 damages in landmark case against brothel owner, manager
A prostitute, known only as Sex Worker A, has won a landmark sexual harassment case against a Wellington brothel owner.
In what is understood to be a world first, the Human Rights Review Tribunal awarded the young woman $25,000 in damages for emotional harm as a result of sexual harassment.
The decision, made by the Human Rights Tribunal on February 12, 2014, and made public overnight, follows a hearing that took place March 5-7, 2012.
The damages were awarded against under the Human Rights Act (1993) for "humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to the feelings of the plaintiff."
The woman worked at the Kensington Inn in Victoria St.
The first defendant was Aaron Montgomery, who managed the brothel, the second its owner-operator, M & T Enterprises. M & T's sole shareholder and director is Mr Montgomery's partner, Tara Elizabeth Brockie.
Mr Montgomery is no longer involved in the Kesington Inn's management.
The Tribunal's decision says those who gave evidence described Mr Montgomery as a large, intimidating man who enjoyed controlling and humiliating women and tried to pressure workers into having sex with him.
Over a three-month period, the older man belittled and frightened the woman (who was 22 when she started working at the Kensington in 2009) until she felt unsafe and on edge, became depressed and turned to alcohol, the Tribunal's decision says.
His overtures included telling her he could do what he liked with the girls who worked for him, and threatening to take her out of her comfort zone.
He told her weekends were his play time, that he took other workers out the back for sex and that most girls would do anything for him.
The tribunal ruled it was unacceptable for an employer to use sexual language in a way that was offensive to the employee in any workplace.
"Context is everything. Even in a brothel, language with a sexual dimension can be used inappropriately in suggestive, oppressive, or abusive circumstances," the findings say.
"Sex workers are as much entitled to protection from sexual harassment as those working in other occupations. The fact that a person is a sex worker is not a licence for sexual harassment - especially by the manager or employer at the brothel."
New Zealand Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator Catherine Healy told media the decision showed New Zealand was a world leader in sex workers' human rights, thanks to the Prostitution Reform Act 2003.
"It's one up for decriminalisation, it's a significant ruling because it could never have happened when sex work was illegal. It indicates the massive change [the industry] has gone through."
The young woman had come to her, distressed and upset, before quitting her job because of the harassment in June 2010.
The findings describe how Mr Montgomery contrived to get the woman alone, where he asked questions about her genital grooming and sexual preferences.
She became so depressed and upset in the demeaning and hostile work environment her regular clients became worried about her.
Another former employee told the tribunal he was "really sleazy" and would pick off vulnerable employees to have sex with him.
While Mr Montgomery denied asking some of the questions and said others were for business reasons, the tribunal disagreed, saying he had a "misplaced confidence in his abilities as a man of the world".
Mr Montgomery did not have to ask her questions multiple times or in a suggestive manner. Sex-related information had been gathered when she got the job, and was kept on a card at reception.
The identity of Sex Worker A, and those who gave evidence in her support, are subject to a non-publication order.
Mr Montgomery and Ms Brocke applied for a non-publication order, but their bid was rejected by the Tribunal, which noted, "The Kensington is one of the largest brothels in Wellington. Publication of its name along with the name of Mr Montgomery, Ms Brockie and M & T Enterprises Ltd could not possibly lead to the identification of the plaintiff."
The Tribunal added, "Reference was made in submission to the possibility of the press photographing clients and sex workers arriving at the Kensington’s premises.
"However, that is a risk which the defendants and their business face every day and in any event, with the decriminalising of prostitution there is no reason why a lawful business should receive name suppression simply because an employee has been found to have been sexually harassed."