Sweeney Estate Agents directors accused of workplace with sexually inappropriate culture

Sweeney Estate Agents directors accused of workplace with sexually inappropriate culture
Sweeney Estate Agents directors accused of workplace with sexually inappropriate culture

Directors of Sweeney Estate Agents, the Melbourne estate agency have been accused of overseeing a sexually inappropriate workplace culture in a lawsuit that alleges the chief executive sent a pornographic image to his female colleague.

The former Yarraville agent Summer Salvato alleges male directors at Sweeney Estate Agents adopted a misogynistic attitude when repeatedly harassing her.

She suggests her complaints were not properly investigated in a claim now lodged in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Sweeney chief executive and founding partner Darren Dean denies he repeatedly made inappropriate comments about her breasts, such as “are you sure you haven’t had your boobs done?” and “sorry, hard to focus, staring at your tits”.

Mr Dean told Fairfax Media's Domain that the allegations would be defended in court.

Ms Salvato claims the behaviour escalated last October following a work-related event at Moonee Valley Racecourse involving text messages after she drove Dean home.

Sweeney Estate Agents directors accused of workplace with sexually inappropriate culture

Ms Salvato says Mr Dean told her that he was watching pornography and suggested he wanted to have sex with her.

Ms Salvato said she repeatedly told him “go to bed, mate” and rang him to tell him his behaviour was “not cool”.

In the days after, she says, he told her that he was drunk when he'd sent the messages and he had moved on and so should she.

Ms Salvato, 38, claims the harassment caused panic attacks, anxiety, depression and insomnia and she had not been able to work since. 

“My life has been turned upside down because of this,” she said. “I’ve lost everything that I worked incredibly hard to achieve.” 

But Dean says he is refuting all of the alleged breaches of the Equal Opportunity, Sex Discrimination and Fair Work acts. 

Salvata was the only female of its 16 directors across its branches in Melbourne’s west.

Her allegations include a claim against others directors including one who was accused as saying it was a shame one of his female employees took parental leave because her “tits were just starting to look better”.

Another director is alleged to have said Ms Salvato had “the biggest balls in the group but they’re better because they’re on her chest”.

Maurice Blackburn principal lawyer Josh Bornstein noted that Ms Salvato’s complaints to management about the treatment of women in the workplace were dismissed.

“She was told she needed to be less sensitive.

Ms Salvato, a mother, will argue she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress.

She was medically declared unfit to work, for the first time since 14 years old.

“I am exhausted. I am financially broken. I have lost passion for a career that I really loved,” Ms Salvato told Domain.

An American who moved to Australia more than a decade ago with her mid-western accent, began in the sales/service industry in 1997 within her father's Cadillac & Mazda dealerships in the West Coast of the United States.

Summer has been in the real estate industry since 2007, according to her profile. Her agency are a sponsors of the Ronald McDonald House Childrens Charity along with our local community events and youth sports clubs, The Yarraville/Seddon Eagles and the Yarraville Glory FC.

She says he is passionate about animal welfare, equal rights and supporting the dedicated men and women of Emergency Services and the Military.

Mr Dean said Sweeney had a 30-year culture of excellence.

“We’re a multicultural employer, we have approximately a 50-50 line of males to females. We also have four females that sit around our board.” 

Last year in a local Star Weekly Fairfax Media paper article in which Salvato and Sweeney collaborated, Dean indicated he had been trying to get Summer on-board for years.

Regarding the ‘old-boys’-club’ style of real estate, he outlined Sweeney Estate Agents had a corporate vision for equality and professionalism.

“Especially in the past three to four years, the pendulum has swung,” he said.


Melbourne Agency

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