Sovereign Hill sexual harrasment claims: male employees support victims, while chief refutes claims of misogyny

Men speak: support for women making accusations of chauvinism at Sovereign Hill.
Men speak: support for women making accusations of chauvinism at Sovereign Hill.

FORMER and current male employees of beleaguered tourist attraction Sovereign Hill have stepped forward to support the testimonies of their female colleagues about allegations of sexual harassment.

Despite a warning from CEO Jeremy Johnson at an all-staff meeting held on Thursday morning that speaking to media was a breach of Sovereign Hill’s code of conduct, Fairfax Media interviewed several employees past and present who corroborated accusations made by female staff, and spoke of a culture of sexism and misogyny among some of the male employees.

Scroll down to read what Mr Johnson’s opinion piece

Fairfax Media understands an employee present at the meeting asked Mr Johnson, “How can I walk down the street in my uniform now? People will think I could be the guy,” referring to Employee X.

One former employee said management at the museum was a ‘boys’ club’, where dealing with actual cultural change at Sovereign Hill was ignored in preference to ‘statements that portrayed Sovereign Hill in a good public light,’ such as photo opportunities for White Ribbon Day, where commitment to change was not measurable.

You gotta watch that guy

Sovereign Hill employee on Employee X

He said the museum had a habit of targeting victims, who were seen as a nuisance, called into disciplinary hearings and blamed for the situations they found themselves in.

“It was purely about stopping the truth getting out; it happened on many occasions,” he said.

Another employee said the culture was ‘certainly misogynistic’, and had a hierarchy that was based not on merit but on, “who was there first, and for how long.” 

The staff member said he first heard about Employee X about two years ago, when he was at Sovereign Hill with another colleague who told him, “You gotta watch that guy.”

He was later present at a Sovereign Hill Christmas party where Employee X harassed the sister of a colleague. The colleague reported the incident, and was then allegedly disciplined for naming Employee X, and given a formal warning.

The staff member said in recent times efforts were being made to address the worse aspects of the culture at Sovereign Hill.

“Look – there are some genuine attempts being made by HR to break the culture: training in bullying and harassment and people being encouraged to report issues; some people are speaking up when unacceptable things are said,” he said.

“There’s a way to go. The smutty jokes, the unwanted attention, asking women to go out – that’s still there. But at least women will know now they can tell a man to back off.”

Sovereign Hill Museums Association chief executive Jeremy Johnson has his say:

Jeremy Johnson,  CEO, Sovereign Hill Museums Association

Jeremy Johnson, CEO, Sovereign Hill Museums Association

THERE’S no doubt the past few days have been difficult for the team here at Sovereign Hill. 

Our great people have been concerned with the attention drawn upon our award-winning tourist destination, particularly the suggestions that a culture of misogyny exists and that sexual harassment has been tolerated. 

Any suggestion of workplace harassment of any kind concerns me, my board and leadership team greatly. 

We take seriously our duty of care to employees and aim to instil a culture of respect, integrity and responsibility every day. 

Indeed our organisational values motivate our professional behaviour between colleagues, visitors, sponsors, suppliers and other stakeholders.

We have taken action in the past 24 hours to ensure our policies and procedures still stand up to modern-day expectations. 

We have initiated a review of our Code of Conduct, Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policy, reporting and investigations procedures and training and induction programs.

Like any organisation concerned with creating a fair and respectful workplace, we review these policies and procedures on an annual basis as part of normal business operations.

In light of recent events, I have arranged for another immediate and thorough review. 

I am confident they are industry best-practice because they have been developed in collaboration with industry experts, relevant authorities and our employees’ union, the Media and Entertainment & Arts Alliance.

If our review determines we could improve the way our people are educated on the policies and procedures, we will act immediately in the interests of continuous improvement.

Like many organisational leaders, I seek to role model the right behaviour and engender a culture within which our employees feel empowered to report discrimination and harassment freely and without prejudice, and that the process for this is easy, confidential, respectful and robust.

I appreciate that coverage in recent days might be influencing people’s perception of Sovereign Hill and given that, I think it is important to reiterate some facts: 

1/ The fully independent investigation Sovereign Hill commissioned in 2017 into ‘Employee X’ resulted in two of 12 allegations being substantiated. They related to Employee X making two inappropriate comments on two separate occasions. Penalties were applied to the employee, including a first and final warning. In light of a police investigation being initiated, we have stood Employee X down until further notice and he will not attend our workplace.

2/ The Courier has reported Thursday that a woman (‘Ms 3’) was dismissed for pushing Employee X. Multiple witness statements brought forward as part of our investigation (many from female employees who also lodged formal complaints about Ms 3’s behaviour) are completely at odds with the female employee’s account. The investigation determined that the female employee had engaged in misconduct and not the other way around.

We are continuing to co-operate with Victoria Police’s current investigation and look forward receiving the findings. 

I am determined to ensure Sovereign Hill maintains its iconic position as a premier tourist attraction and historical education facility. 

Moreover, I am focussed on ensuring our organisation continues to be an inspiring and supportive place to work for our hundreds of terrific employees and a major contributor to the Victorian economy and local community.