A sex worker awarded a six-figure payout after being sexually harassed at work is feeling vindicated, say those who lobbied for her.
Despite much of the case being subject to a confidentiality agreement, the Office of Human Rights Proceedings has revealed a substantial settlement has been reached between a business owner and a sex worker.
The money is to compensate the woman for emotional harm and lost earnings.
Human rights proceedings director Michael Timmins said the settlement was "substantial" and hoped to serve as a benchmark for future cases.
Sex rights activist and national co-ordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective Dame Catherine Healy is calling it a "milestone" case and a warning to brothel operators to be "very aware" of upholding labour rights.
Timmins said that in taking a civil case, the harassed worker was incredibly courageous and was pleased with the outcome.
"The complainant was incredibly brave. It's often difficult for sex worker to stand up for their rights but in this case the sex worker did, which is exceptionally important.
"The sex worker would say she felt vindicated and I hope that the sex worker feels a sense of achievement because it was the bravery and persistence of that person to engage in a system that isn't easy for complainants and yet that person was still able to achieve some justice," said Timmins.
He said the settlement served as an important reminder to businesses across the country that under the Human Rights Act all workers, regardless of the type of work they do, had a right to do their job without sexual harassment in the workplace.
"We encourage all business owners and employers to ensure that they understand and respect those rights," said Timmins.
"With the #MeToo era, more and more complaints of sexual harassment are being brought forward. It's good that people are coming forward with these complaints but it's also a stain that this is acceptable conduct in businesses up and down the country."
He said anyone who felt they've been sexually harassed to consider taking a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. However, he also hoped businesses would take "a real strong look" at their cultures, ensure their policies and training was up to date and not treated as a box-ticking exercise.
"This is indeed another milestone that has occurred in the context of a country that has supported really progressive legislation to enable this kind of ruling to occur.
It amplified the need for anyone who operated a brothel or was in a role working with sex workers to run an audit through practice ensuring labour rights were being upheld and there wasn't sexual harassment in the workplace.
"We know there has been some sloppy, inappropriate actions which have seen to be the norm or culturally accepted practices. It's a warning really to operators of brothels and anyone in a relationship with a sex worker in the workforce to be very aware that sex workers don't have to put up with their practices," she said.
The sex worker case served as a benchmark payout and said the office was an avenue to force change in a way that reflected the true cost of harassment.
"Part of what this office wants to achieve is to take cases through trial and to win and then increase the damages that are being awarded to sex harassment complainants.
"In New Zealand the current ceiling is about $25,000 for damages.
"In this case we settled for a six-figure sum, which is substantial and is showing the seriousness of the matter and how we thought it merited that sort of award."
Timmins said many sexual harassment cases had non-disclosure agreements but the office wanted to make sure there was some form of public transparency. The best way was to have an agreed statement, he said.
The sex worker had initially filed sexual harassment proceedings in the Human Rights Commission but because the matter was unresolved she turned to the Office of the Human Rights Proceedings to take the case to the Human Rights Tribunal. Before the case was heard a deal was struck.
He said while the office had more cases of sexual harassment awaiting hearings, none involved sex workers.