Staff tested with unprovoked attacks’
Employees at a security firm where a female employee was sexually assaulted by her boss are subjected to “unprovoked attacks” to test their self-defence skills, a tribunal heard.
Lawyer Sara Tucker told a Human Rights Commission panel that though it wasn’t in their employee handbook, staff at SAS Protection Services were told to expect “spontaneous attacks”.
Ms Tucker was representing SAS and its former CEO Quinton Neil Francis, 43, at a hearing to determine how much Francis’s victim should be paid in damages for the breach of her human rights during the attack in 2012.
Francis, who has accepted liability, attacked the woman while the pair were on an evening patrol at the Horizons property in Paget and was later convicted of sexual assault.
The HRC heard last month how he put his victim into a headlock before dragging her into an abandoned cottage, pulling her shirt over her head and exposing her left breast by pulling off her bra cup.
Ms Tucker argued the headlock was not part of the sexual assault and shouldn’t be taken into account when assessing damages as it was something done to SAS employees to ensure they were “aware of their surroundings”.
Panel member Jens Juul asked Ms Tucker on Tuesday whether Francis put male employees in a headlock, pulled up their shirts and exposed their chests.
Ms Tucker said Francis instructed her that any employee could be “subjected to this sort of unannounced” attack on them.
“It was something he had done, maybe not as far as pulling up their shirts, but as far as putting persons in headlocks and testing their abilities,” she said. Mr Juul said: “Had that been the case, I think you would have brought a witness who would have stated that.”
Panel member Donna Daniels questioned why the handbook didn’t list the unprovoked attacks in the section on self-defence, where she said it clearly stated that staff’s self-defence training must be done by a licensed instructor.
“Is Mr Francis a licensed instructor?” Ms Daniels asked. Ms Tucker said he was not, adding: “The evidence is that [the victim] did not take part in self-defence training. She had attended one class. It’s my client’s instruction that the instructor had said that she was too weak, following that one course, and that she still had not done a further course. That’s what had led to the decision [to put her in a headlock].”
HRC chairman Tawana Tannock said it was “ironic” that the victim was seen as suitable for a “surprise attack” when Francis knew she had been deemed physically weak by the instructor.
She asked: “Was [the victim] aware of the practice of surprise attacks to test self-defence? Was this communicated to her during her employment? Was she made aware that she might be the subject of a surprise physical attack?”
Ms Tucker replied: “I was told that everyone was made aware verbally that they may be subjected to unprovoked attacks to test their skills.”
The lawyer said Francis was demoted after his criminal trial and was no longer CEO, though was still employed by SAS.
She admitted that prior to those proceedings, SAS failed to investigate the woman’s complaint, despite having a duty to do so.
“That’s a tremendous failing on the part of SAS, but one which most companies in this jurisdiction are in ignorance of until it happens,” said Ms Tucker. “I believe it’s one that SAS is trying to remedy.”
Arion Mapp, counsel for the woman, said his client attended two sessions of mandatory self-defence training. “At no stage has [the victim] ever been told that she could be attacked,” he said. “It’s never been suggested.”
Mr Mapp said even if one was expecting an attack, they would not expect it to lead to sexual assault or rape.
Gesturing to Francis, the lawyer added: “I’m kind of troubled by the attempt to trivialise what happened. She was forced into an abandoned cottage and forced to have herself exposed. I don’t understand why he’s laughing.”
The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, filed a grievance with the HRC on the basis that the law prohibits anyone from abusing a position of authority to sexually harass another person and gives employees the right to freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace.
The panel reserved judgment to a later date on the amount to be awarded.
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