Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The law firm that was blasted by a Federal Court judge over its conduct in the Peter Slipper sexual harassment case has come in for more criticism over a claim that a client rejected a settlement offer nearly five times more generous than she ultimately received.
Rebecca Richardson won just $18,000 in her $450,000 sexual harassment claim against the software company Oracle and must now foot a substantial proportion of her former employer's legal costs.
But she is standing by Harmers Workplace Lawyers. She has issued a statement thanking the firm, even though Federal Court Justice Robert Buchanan found her case had been "largely misconceived" and that it had been "imprudent and unreasonable" to reject a $55,000 settlement offer.
Ms Richardson turned down offers of $55,000, $25,000 and $85,000 respectively.
Justice Buchanan ordered that, given the adequacy of those offers, she was liable to pay the legal costs incurred by Oracle after the first one on an indemnity basis.
She will also have to foot the legal bill after that point for the man who sexually harassed her. It is likely the bill will be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Evidence before the court suggested she already owed her lawyers nearly $225,000 before the 21-day hearing in the Federal Court.
In February the court found Oracle was vicariously liable for the treatment of Ms Richardson by her colleague Randol Tucker, who subjected her to "a humiliating series of slurs, alternating with sexual advances … which built into a more or less constant barrage of sexual harassment".
But it rejected her claim for future economic loss as largely misconceived.
Justice Buchanan said it appeared Ms Richardson's decision to turn down Oracle's offer of $85,000 was based on the amount still being inadequate to pay her solicitors. She would have been left with nothing for herself and still owing Harmers $22,000.
"That picture is a disturbing one," Justice Buchanan said. "At this point, whatever the merits of Ms Richardson's claims, the proceedings would have been conducted solely for the financial benefit of her lawyers."
But the court found this should not be taken into account in deciding whether the settlement offers made to her were reasonable.
Harmers was criticised by the same court last year for abuse of process over the way it conducted James Ashby's sexual harassment case against Mr Slipper, the former speaker of the House of Representatives.
Harmers said Justice Buchanan's comments were made in ignorance of the financial arrangement that existed with its client.
Ms Richardson said Harmers had been "incredibly supportive". "That support has been legal, emotional and importantly [with] the financial arrangements concerning my legal fees," she said.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Just look at the mother's face
Proud parents: Tessa and Daynie Singh
They're sisters, they’re all four years old – but, remarkably, these three little girls are not triplets. The eldest, Cara, was just nine months old when she became a big sister to twins Laura and Jenna. Her mother, Tessa Singh, 40, had become pregnant again within 12 weeks of her birth, and the twins were born prematurely at 28 weeks.
It means for three months of each year, the sisters are all the same age.
Mrs Singh said: ‘People can’t believe it when I tell them all the girls are the same age, yet they aren’t triplets.
‘I can’t quite believe I’ve given birth to three girls in just nine months. I’ve certainly had my hands full.’
Mrs Singh, a teacher, and her hairdresser husband Daynie, 39, had their first daughter Cara in July 2008. They started trying for another baby three months later.
Mrs Singh said: ‘We had wanted to have babies close together so we thought when Cara was three months old that we should start trying as we didn’t know how long it would take.
‘If it was going to take a year or so to fall pregnant, then we wanted to start trying straight away. I actually fell pregnant the first time we started trying, which was a bit of a surprise.’
The couple, who live in Chorlton, Manchester, were in for a further surprise when Mrs Singh went for a 12-week scan and the sonographer told her she was expecting twins.
She said: ‘I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was in complete shock. I’d had a lot more morning sickness with this pregnancy, but I had never imagined that I could be carrying twins. There are no twins in either side of our families.
‘I was actually offered counselling by the hospital after I’d found out. I think they thought that three babies in under nine months was a bit too much to cope with.
‘We discussed it and decided that it was daunting, but as long as we were organised, then we would be able to manage.’
But in April 2009, when Mrs Singh was 27 weeks pregnant, she went into premature labour. She said: ‘It was so frightening that the babies were on their way at such an early stage. We didn’t even know if they would survive. We really thought that we were going to lose them.’
Doctors at Royal Oldham Infirmary managed to hold off the contractions for a week. Then the twins were delivered, each weighing only 2lbs.
The girls were transferred to St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester. Jenna suffered two bleeds on the brain, had a hole in her heart and had a collapsed lung.
Mrs Singh said: ‘It was a terrifying time for us when the twins were first born. They were so tiny and so poorly. At one point we said goodbye to Jenna, but amazingly she managed to fight on.’
Jenna was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and the doctors warned Mrs Singh that she may never walk. But she has proved the medics wrong, something that Mrs Singh believes is down to her close relationship with her sisters.
She said: ‘They have such a strong bond. Cara was only nine months old when the twins were born, so she has never known life without them there.
‘It is as if they are all triplets. They are never apart from each other. She has just as strong a bond with the twins as they do with each other. They always want to sleep all together on one bed.’
‘Jenna has been helped so much by her sisters. It has given her the goal and incentives to keep up with them, which has helped her enormously.’
She added: ‘It may have been a shock to give birth to three babies in nine months, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.’
See also Katie Brown and Angela Cottam and Joanne Short and Bianca Smith Rachel Collins and Kitty Dimbleby and Allison Noyce and The Duchess of Cambridge.