Officer claims Australian Federal Polic discrimination over her sexuality

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A senior federal police officer has launched legal action against the Australian Federal Police, claiming she was discriminated against, and her career was ruined, because she tried to transfer to another state to be with her girlfriend.

The woman’s partner, also an AFP officer, launched separate legal action last year, alleging she was refused a new job because she is a woman, and the role required her to work alone and demonstrate she could carry a 40-kilogram dog.

In documents lodged with the Federal Circuit Court, Kathryn Lee Richens claimed the AFP had discriminated against her because of her sexuality and/or marital status.

She has demanded the AFP compensate her for financial losses she suffered for not living in the same city as her partner, Senior Constable Emma-Kate McPherson, including travel expenses, airfares, and the cost of maintaining separate homes in different cities.

She is also seeking compensation for “hurt, humiliation and injury to feelings”.

In a statement, an AFP spokesman said he could not comment on matters before the court, but said “the AFP takes all allegations of discrimination seriously”.

“Our policies have a zero tolerance to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace,” he said.

The move comes weeks after former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick released a report into gender in the AFP, and concluded the organisation had a problem with women.

Ms Broderick found 46 per cent of women had reported being sexually harassed in the workplace in the past five years, and 66 per cent of women reported being bullied in the past five years.

Detective Sergeant Richens alleges her troubles began when she applied in 2013 for a transfer from Canberra – where she had been working in an investigations role for Crime Operations – to Melbourne to be with her partner. Senior Constable McPherson was working in Brisbane and had also applied for transfer to Melbourne.

Senior Constable McPherson was unsuccessful in her application to work with the canine unit in Melbourne, and later alleged in her legal action against the AFP that a Brisbane-based AFP sergeant said it would be difficult for a woman to relocate because “they were short of females and it looks good on the books”.

Senior Constable McPherson also made repeated unsuccessful attempts for an interstate transfer to be with her partner.

When Senior Constable McPherson missed out on a transfer to Melbourne, Detective Sergeant Richens withdrew her application for transfer, too.

But she claimed in her lawsuit that her superior, Commander Jennifer Hurst, had removed her from her investigations role in Canberra, and took “adverse action” against her because she had exercised her right to withdraw from the transfer.

The day after she withdrew her transfer application, Detective Sergeant Richens applied for annual leave to spend time with her girlfriend.

She claims she was told Commander Hurst had requested she change her leave dates and, when she did, directed that the annual leave be revoked because it created “team resourcing” issues.

Detective Sergeant Richens further alleged that she was transferred against her will to a recruit training job while she was on leave, and that a male colleague – who didn’t apply for the job – was transferred into a prized counterterrorism job that Detective Sergeant Richens had wanted.

A week later, Detective Sergeant Richens applied for long-service leave to spend time with her girlfriend. When another superior, Superintendent Darren Booy, denied her leave and she complained about it, she claims, Superintendent Booy said, “Your partner’s not my problem and it’s not my experience that people need leave before starting a new role”, and “I’ve looked at your leave calendar and note you take a bit of leave”.

She was later allowed to take the leave.

Detective Sergeant Richens claims that after this, Superintendent Booy gave her a negative work assessment, and claimed she had been underperforming, although he had not raised any performance issues with her directly.

She filed a complaint with the Fair Work Commission in September 2014, and claimed she was then blocked from transferring to counterterrorism because she had raised a complaint with Fair Work.

She was transferred to a “community policing” role at Melbourne Airport last year, and has since been unable to transfer to an investigations team. The AFP has asked the court to send the matter for mediation.

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