Willy ‘windmills’ and vulgar memes: Sexist sacking shocker
A finance executive with Australia's largest car dealership group sacked for using work headshots to create a sexually explicit meme of his female colleague then post it on his personal Facebook page claims it was all just a part of the office's misogynistic and racist workplace culture which included a workmate "windmilling his penis" on Snapchat and staff calling each other "c***s".
Matthew Thompson, a finance broker with 360 Finance Pty Ltd (360 Finance), argued that prior to his employer's takeover by corporate motoring giant AP Eagers his workplace was so dysfunctional that one colleague had been "windmilling his penis" on Snapchat, and a Polynesian colleague was given a racist Secret Santa gift of "all things that relate to black people" including a fried chicken bucket filled with cotton and unemployment forms from Centrelink.
He also claimed that "public groping", sexually suggestive comments and the sending of racist pictures and memes via email between staff occurred without disciplinary consequences.
Mr Thompson was sacked on June 19 last year at a meeting at Zupps Subaru in Mt Gravatt, two days after he created and posted a vulgar meme showing a washing machine with suds coming out of it and a photo of his female colleague Ruby Metla asking him "You pulled out right?" and Mr Thompson saying, "Yeah, of course."
The meme was shared by their colleagues on Facebook, but after it was seen by more than a dozen who contacted her to ask if she was okay, Ms Metla became so angry she threatened to cut Mr Thompson's "balls off and feed them to my neighbour's dog".
After colleagues also became upset online, Mr Thompson posted a second meme with a selfie and the words: "That moment after you've dropped a meme with the aim to upset some c***s.... And you get to hear, c***s are upset".
Mr Thompson argued he was referring to colleagues getting upset and not to Ms Metla. She believed he was referring to her.
Mr Thompson - who was sacked for sexual harassment, social media misuse and misuse of company photos - was among six AP Eagers staff in Queensland and the Northern Territory to be sacked for sexual harassment in the past two years.
Details of the claims of sexist and racist work culture at AP Eager's finance broker unit were revealed in a 61-page decision by the Fair Work Commission on May 6 when Deputy President Nicholas Lake threw out Mr Thompson's bid to be reinstated to his job, arguing his sacking was unfair because his conduct was condoned.
Mr Lake found that Mr Thompson's behaviour was "sufficiently serious and inappropriate" to justify immediate sacking.
Mr Lake also found that 360 Finance's business "fell considerably short of the standards expected of a workplace" and that its new owners still have a considerable way to go to improve it.
"The evidence makes it abundantly clear that the standard of conduct deemed appropriate at (360 Finance) fell far below what might objectively be seen as 'normal' at a workplace," Mr Lake stated in his decision.
The company agreed during the hearing that evidence given by staffer Simeon "Kepo" Samuel indicated that the company's work culture was not "that of a convent" for nuns.
360 Finance, based in the Brisbane suburb of Underwood and owned by motoring AP Eagers which has 11 per cent of the nation's new car market, submitted to the hearing that Mr Thompson told his bosses: "You don't have enough to fire me on this" and "people smarter than us will sort this out in the courts" when they were about to sack him.
Mr Thompson, who worked for 360 Finance for 7.5 years, argued that he was a top performer and he did not expect to be sacked by his employer given the historical tolerance, or ignoring, of similar crude jokes including the fact that a workmate sent a Snapchat of "windmilling his penis" and Ms Metla gave Mr Samuel, a Polynesian worker, a KFC chicken bucket full of cotton balls and unemployment forms from Centrelink in front of about 40 staff.
Mr Samuel testified that he found the gift funny and that some people in the office referred to him as "Blackie", and that he heard male staff tell women "Your arse looks nice" or "Your chest looks nice".
Mr Thompson argued that sexual harassment had been "regular" in the office including sexual innuendo, public groping and sexually suggestive comments and until 2019 conversations between staff "ran the full gamut of offensiveness... sexist, racist, ableist, sexually explicit and homophobic".
Mr Thompson claimed a worker who had a speech impediment was given the nickname, "Stutters".
"Everybody called him Stutters, including management," Mr Thompson testified to the commission.
He said he openly called Ms Metla "slutty Ruby" in the office for years and she called him "c***" or "c*** rash" and the office Christmas party ended up at a strip club.
But Ms Metla, who still works at 360, gave evidence that whenever she was in the company of men in the office Mr Thompson would ask her: "Are you f***ing him?" and he told her to wear tight clothes, and queried if she was wearing shaping underwear called Spanks which made her cry.
She told the hearing that "every single female in the company current and previous has had one minimum bad relationship with Matthew Thompson. He has offended every single female sexually, inappropriately, and he has made them cry also".
Ms Metla and Mr Thompson are no longer friends, the commission heard.
Mr Thompson told the commission that at his disciplinary meeting with his bosses before he was sacked he told them: "I asked Ruby if I could post the meme before I put it on my Facebook page. I don't understand how this could be sexual harassment, as she was 'OK' with it".
He told the commission that "Ms Metla advised that she approved of it being posted to [his] personal Facebook page".
Mr Thompson had been in trouble before.
He was slapped with a written warning in 2019 for making the misogynistic comments: "You might need to tighten your skirt" and "because invoicing is done by women mate".
Mr Thompson told the hearing that AP Eagers general manager Michael Dowling yelled the swear-word "f***" at staff up to 20 times in a November 2019 meeting.
Ms Metla said Mr Thompson's actions caused her trauma and she was "quite distressed" by the speed that the meme spread between her colleagues and former colleagues.
The photos Mr Thompson used in the sexually explicit meme were headshots taken by the company by a professional photographer to be used on 360's website.
Mr Thompson posted the meme on Facebook while he was at home receiving JobKeeper payments as he was stood down due to insufficient work during the pandemic.
AP Eagers argued during the hearing that since it bought the business in October 2019 it was continuously shifting the culture of the business from previous owners Matthew and Richard Burgess and argued staff were aware of the new expectations of behaviour.
Originally published as Willy 'windmills' and vulgar memes: Sexist sacking shocker