AUT apologises to Australian MP Marisa Paterson for sexual harassment

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Auckland, August 25, 2022

Standfirst: Auckland University of Technology has publicly apologised for failures in a major sexual harassment case, revealed by a Stuff investigation in 2020. The university apologised to Australian MP Dr Marisa Paterson after the case went to the Human Rights Commission. In the apology, AUT admitted it did not take Paterson’s claims of sexual stalking and harassment by a top professor seriously. Two pro-Vice-Chancellors resigned in disgrace and allegations from dozens of other staff forced AUT to order an independent investigation in 2020. Dr Paterson said that she hopes that her case will inspire others to complain about harassment and bullying. Dr Marisa Paterson, then a mid-career Australian academic and now a State Parliament MP in Canberra, did as Dame Marilyn suggested and took her case to New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission.

Unreserved apology

Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has unreservedly apologised to Dr Marisa Paterson for the University’s handling of her complaint of sexual harassment by a former AUT staff member.

Following the complaint, an independent review was undertaken by Queen’s Counsel Kate Davenport, whose report and recommendations were accepted by the University.

The settlement is a tangible step in AUT’s progress towards a more inclusive culture.

The University recognises the role it plays in New Zealand as a leading tertiary institution and is committed to ensuring that its staff and students exemplify the values of Tika, Aroha and Pono.

Dr Paterson said that she complained because she wanted harmful behaviour to stop and the situation investigated.

Public step in Leadership

“My desperation in lodging a formal complaint was extreme – my career was everything to me and I knew that making a complaint would have significant implications. 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,” she said.

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, Dr Paterson said.

“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,” she said.

RNZ Picture by Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Dr Peterson said that such harassment can never happen again.

“I believe that my experience will contribute to AUT, and hopefully other New Zealand workplaces, being safer work environments and that gives 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 because it sets a standard in precedent, behaviour and respect,” she said.

Dr Paterson was represented by the Office of Human Rights Proceedings.

Senior Solicitor Nicole Browne described the settlement as a recognition of the responsibilities that employers have under the Human Rights Act 1993 to prevent harassment and discrimination.

A Human Rights Commission Press Release said that 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.

Three-Tier Complaints Process

“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. AUT acknowledges culture change takes time and 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,” the Press note 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.

Positive shift

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.

“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. 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 a positive shift in institutional culture.

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

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