Gold Coast lawyer Catherine Hill told the Federal Court in Brisbane she felt pressured to be in a relationship with her boss to keep her job. Picture: David Clark/AAP
Gold Coast lawyer Catherine Hill told the Federal Court in Brisbane she felt pressured to be in a relationship with her boss to keep her job. Picture: David Clark/AAP

‘Amorous emails’: Lawyer claims sexual harassment

A LAWYER and single mother feared she would be sacked if she didn't sleep with her boss who was sexually harassing her, threatening that she "might be sorry" if she turned him down, a court has heard.

Catherine Mia Hill, 54, told the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane on Tuesday that she felt Owen Hughes, from northern NSW law firm Beesley and Hughes, pressured her to "be in a relationship with him" if she wanted to keep her job.

She told the court she was "intimidated or threatened" by Mr Hughes and believed he wanted a sexual relationship and for her to live with him when she worked for him between May 2015 and June 2016, before she quit.

Lawyer Owen Hughes. Picture: David Clark/AAP
Lawyer Owen Hughes. Picture: David Clark/AAP

The mother of one had only just graduated with her law degree when she worked with him, and he emailed her to say she had a week to decide if she would live with him and his family like the TV series The Brady Bunch, or she would be ­replaced with a Ukrainian mail-order bride.

"All cool if you just want to work with me, but at the end of the day you would have a Ukrainian woman working for me as well as you and you might be sorry you turned me down romantically," Mr Hughes wrote to her.

"They are emotionally tough and 100 per cent loyal," Mr Hughes said of Ukrainian women.

Mr Hughes said he "didn't mean it as a threat", when he told Ms Hill she "might be sorry". He told the court he gave up on his plan to "bring out" a Ukrainian mail-order bride when he became interested in Ms Hill.

"She was very flirtatious or coquettish with me," Mr Hughes told the court ­yesterday, a claim Ms Hill denied.

Ms Hill has sued Mr Hughes for sexual discrimination and is seeking damages for stress, anxiety and time off work.

Ms Hill claimed Mr Hughes sent her emails declaring his love for her that made her feel "very uncomfortable", and that he also hugged her several times, non-consensually, in the office.

She feared losing her job when she told him "no more hugs", the court heard.

Mr Hughes admitted sending Ms Hill several emails that he regretted writing and agreed he wanted to have a "sexual relationship" with her, but denied sexual harassment.

"If you decide to go with me romantically it will be the most beautiful thing for both of us," Mr Hughes told Ms Hill in an email.

"It would be like we were in our 20s again. I've a big heart which I would give all to you."

Mr Hughes told the court: "I've sent some amorous emails, but I don't believe they are offensive, humiliating or a sexual nature."

He later theorised that Ms Hill may have been "setting him up" from when she began the job, with a plan to sue for sexual harassment.

Mr Hughes failed in his bid to have his identity suppressed, arguing it was "embarrassing" because the claims were untrue.

During cross-examination, Ms Hill denied Mr Hughes' claims that she told him that she "expected" she would feel "loving towards" him "by the end of the week".

Mr Hughes claims Ms Hill told him she was interested in dating and that she travelled with him to Sydney in July 2015, for what he claims was a holiday, but she testified it was to go to court for work.

Angela Hellewell, barrister for Mr Hughes, told the court Mr Hughes "could risk losing his career" over the allegations.

The hearing continues before Judge Salvatore Vasta.



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