A group of gay Sydney police officers who alleged they were discriminated against because of their sexuality have won a landmark lawsuit against the NSW Police Force.
Newtown-based officers Steven Rapisarda, Shane Housego, Christopher Sheehy and Christian McDonald were the focus of a six-month undercover investigation in 2015 after former Newtown Local Area Command Superintendent Simon Hardman filed a complaint against them.
Hardman, who is now head of security at the University of Sydney, alleged the four men belonged to a “tight knit group of like-minded homosexuals” and had an “anecdotal reputation for loose morals and reckless behaviour”, including “recreational drug use”. But the subsequent investigation, which was conducted by an eight-man strike force codenamed Andro, found no evidence of wrongdoing on the men’s part.
In 2017, the four officers sued the NSW Police Force over alleged discrimination, maladministration and misuse of public funds, seeking compensation and an apology. Today, after three years of litigation, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal found the officers had been “subjected to unlawful discrimination”.
Nicholas Stewart from Dowson Turco Lawyers, who represented the men, said the case was a “David and Goliath battle” and that the judgement is significant for “several reasons”.
“Firstly, it shows that the NSW Police Force’s complaints system is vulnerable to misuse and abuse without independent oversight,” Stewart said.
“Secondly, it demonstrates that in an age of progressive and inclusive corporate policies, discrimination can be found alive and well in pockets of any organisation.”
He added the case “could have been resolved if the officers’ complaints had been listened to and addressed” but instead “proceeded to an expensive two-year dispute that involved many lawyers and the use of taxpayer funds in excess of $1.5m to defend the indefensible”.
“We congratulate Mr Rapisarda, Mr Housego, Mr McDonald and Mr Sheehy on their tenacity to stand up for what’s right and shine a light on homophobia at work and the vulnerability of the LGBT community in the modern world,” Stewart said.
The amount of damages to be awarded will be determined at a hearing next month.