‘Our little secret’: Hotel employee wins compo appeal

A HOTEL company will have to pay compensation to a former employee who was indecently assaulted eight years ago while she was staying in a hotel caretaker's apartment.

Oaks Hotels and Resorts Limited was ordered by a Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal member to pay Natasha Knauer compensation for sexual harassment.

The hotel company lost an appeal against the decision in the tribunal in 2016 and now the Court of Appeal has rejected the hotel company's latest appeal.

In 2010, Ms Knauer was encouraged by Oaks then director and chief executive officer Brett Pointon to stay for free in a unit with one of its hotel caretakers, while she worked in another of its Brisbane hotels.

The elderly caretaker had been allowed to live in the unit rent-free, in exchange for him providing after-hours caretaking services at Oaks Lexicon Hotel.

The Court of Appeal heard that after Ms Knauer, then 21, moved into the spare bedroom of the caretaker's Lexicon unit, she woke at 5am the next day to find him naked in her room.

He then indecently assaulted her and after she told him to stop and leave the room and she broke down crying, he left.

The court heard he returned soon after, saying "This can be our little secret''.

A tribunal member found that Oaks Hotels and Resorts was vicariously liable for a contravention of the Anti-Discrimination Act by the caretaker.

The member rejected Oaks' submission that the caretaker was only working while responding to a call, alarm or incident and therefore not working at the time of the sexual harassment.

The member found that the caretaker was working between 10pm and 6am, while on call, and therefore was engaged in work and the contravention occurred in the course of work.

The appeal tribunal endorsed that decision.

Oaks appealed, but the Court of Appeal found it had not established any error of law in the tribunal member's decision.

Appeal court judge Justice Hugh Fraser found that the caretaker was obliged at all times during his work hours to remain sober, to stay in or near the hotel and be vigilant for safety risks.

Whether he was awake or asleep, by being in his unit in the hotel, the caretaker was fulfilling his contractual work obligations, he said.

Justice Fraser agreed with the tribunal member's finding that the caretaker contravened the Act during his defined work hours

On December 21, three appeal court judges unanimously dismissed the Oaks appeal.