An actor suing a production company for failing to act on accusations of sexual harassment is seeking $2 million in compensation, alleging she was discriminated against and victimised after speaking out.
Christie Whelan Browne launched legal proceedings in Sydney’s Federal Court on Friday over allegations stage company Oldfield Entertainment breached provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act.
The stage performer claimed in court Oldfield had failed to provide a safe work environment during her time performing nationwide with The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 2014 alongside actor Craig McLachlan.
A Statement of Claim, which was made public after an application for a suppression order was abandoned, has revealed the extent of allegations Ms Browne has made against both Mr McLachlan and Oldfield.
Many of the claims, which include allegations Mr McLachlan made unwanted advances onstage, have been made public following criminal charges, of which the actor was acquitted, and a defamation trial.
Mr McLachlan is not named as a Respondent in the suit, with Ms Browne’s allegations instead pertaining to Oldfield’s response to her concerns in 2014, and the company’s alleged treatment of her after going public in 2018.
According to the Statement of Claim, Ms Browne on multiple occasions went to staff involved in the production to complain about Mr McLachlan’s alleged conduct and claims she was unsupported.
In one instance in May 2014, Ms Browne claimed she went to the show’s director, John Frost, after she alleged Mr McLachlan had been aggressive towards her and confided that she was “scared of him”.
Mr Frost is alleged to have told a crying Ms Browne that “we can’t have that”, and that she could call him, but allegedly failed to take any further steps to reprimand Mr McLachlan or give Ms Browne his number.
In 2017, Ms Browne’s lawyer wrote to Oldfield following news of allegations made against US film producer Harvey Weinstein and before an upcoming tour of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Mr McLachlan.
In the statement, Ms Browne claimed Oldfield’s lawyers said they had no record of complaints regarding Mr McLachlan’s behaviour with the “clear implication being that the allegations were false”.
But, after interviews between Ms Browne the media were broadcast, Oldfield allegedly responded by stating that it was “shocked”, and that it was “not appropriate” for McLachlan to continue.
Furthermore, Oldfield is stated to have claimed in its response that it was “not aware” of any allegations prior to Ms Browne and others speaking to various media outlets in 2018.
“It (Oldfield) falsely represented that no one had made any complaints, formal or informal (and) falsely denied reports that it had been told of the allegations,” the statement alleges.
The statement alleges Ms Browne became “distressed and humiliated”, with the subsequent defamation trial and media coverage thereof resulting in anxiety and depression.
Ms Browne further claimed prior to her performance as Janet, her “first lead role in a large show”, Oldfield – then known as GFO – had expressed interest in casting her in another role.
“However, Mr Frost said to (Browne’s) agent that he could only offer her $2000 per week, instead of the salary of about $3500 paid for RHS,” the statement alleges, “then said words to the effect of ‘I don’t recommend she takes the role’.”
“The Applicant (Ms Browne) did not take the role and it was clear to her that Mr Frost no longer had any real interest in having her appear as a female lead – or at all – in productions of (Oldfield)”.
In court last week, Oldfield’s lawyers argued that they were at a “disadvantage” because many of the people named in the lawsuit were no longer employed by the stage production company.
Oldfield had also sought to suppress aspects of the Statement to Claim out of fears it could “embarrass” Mr McLachlan, who then might not want to participate in the court hearing process.
Arguments for and against the order were expected to be heard on Monday, with Ms Browne’s lawyers expected to oppose it, but was abandoned on the same day with the case to return to court at a later date.
Mr McLachlan has continuously denied the allegations and in 2020 was acquitted in criminal charges. Defamation proceedings were discontinued in 2022 before key witnesses could give evidence.
The lawsuit comes also after Ms Browne took action in February at the Australian Human Rights Commission, which was abandoned because “no reasonable prospect of the matter being settled by conciliation”.