Sydney Water worker awarded $200,000 after being featured in ‘lubricate’ spine safety poster

A woman featured in a Sydney Water spine safety poster urging the workforce to “Feel great – lubricate!” has been awarded $200,000 in damages.

Former Sydney Water worker Reem Yelda lodged a sexual harassment claim in 2017 after seeing how she had been portrayed in promotional material posted around its facilities.

In large letters above an image of Yelda stretching was the phrase: “Feel Great – lubricate!”

She said she was in disbelief and felt like a “sex object” after male colleagues emailed her saying “Who’s the chick in the photo??” and “Great advice mate but a bit too much info for me!!!!”.

The A3 poster, displayed from February to April 2016, was also placed outside the men’s toilets at Sydney Water’s Ryde depot.

A male worker who encouraged Yelda to make a complaint in April 2016 said his first impression of the poster was seeing the woman pointing to “lubricate”.

He only realised it was part of an injury prevention program when he read the whole poster, he told the NSW civil and administrative tribunal.

Yelda left the workplace soon after making the complaint.

Sydney Water, which lost an appeal against NCAT’s finding of sexual harassment, said it accepted Yelda suffered some embarrassment and distress.

But that was moderated by her lack of immediate reaction when first seeing the poster in March 2016 and her comment “I don’t want to make a big deal about this at this stage” when complaining about the poster in April 2016.

She had also circulated the poster nationally in the media, Sydney Water said.

Vitality Works, which produced the poster, apologised but said there was not a clear link between its breach and Yelda’s subsequent medical and employment issues.

Both companies contended damages of about $10,000 was appropriate.

But, having found Yelda a “credible, reliable and honest” witness, NCAT accepted she had suffered psychological harm and loss of income.

Despite being regarded as a good and competent worker in the male-dominated workforce, the former customer liaison officer could not face people at Sydney Water after the poster was displayed, the tribunal said.

NCAT calculated her loss and damage at $318,280 but could not award more than $100,000 against each respondent.

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