Adelaide University sexual harassment case to assess whether professor made ‘unwelcome’ advance on colleague

A senior University of Adelaide lecturer has told a South Australian tribunal that she was in shock in the days after a professor she respected had allegedly sexually harassed her at a hotel during a 2019 conference.

Mathematical Sciences senior lecturer Giang Thu Nguyen has launched a sexual harassment complaint against her colleague, Professor Joshua Ross, in the SA Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

She has also made a complaint against her employer, claiming the University of Adelaide failed to adequately handle her original complaint in November 2019.

Dr Nguyen will seek $ 970,000 in compensation, if the tribunal finds she was sexually harassed.

The tribunal heard Dr Nguyen claimed she was too drunk to have consented to sex with Professor Ross after a night of excessive alcohol consumption during the three-day conference in the Adelaide suburb of Glenelg.

But Professor Ross – who is responsible for South Australia’s COVID-19 modeling – denies the sexual harassment complaint, claiming Dr Nguyen was conscious and a “willing participant”.

Dr Nguyen told the tribunal she only had “flashes” of the sexual encounter and was in “shock and denial” in the days afterwards because she admired Professor Ross, who was “one of the people I respected in the mathematics school”.

A building with a University of Adelaide sign on it with a taller one in the background
A lawyer for the University of Adelaide said the incident happened outside of work.(ABC News: Dean Faulkner)

Kerry Clark SC, for Dr Nguyen, told the tribunal her client had made a rape allegation to SA Police, but charges were not laid against Professor Ross.

“I should stress that is not what we’re here to determine. This is a case of sexual harassment under the Equal Opportunity Act,” she said.

Ms Clark said the case centered on whether Professor Ross, on the balance of probabilities, made an “unwelcome” sexual advance on Dr Nguyen and whether a reasonable person “in his shoes” would have appreciated her level of intoxication and inability to consent.

“She [Dr Nguyen] made a pretty incoherent blog post during that period of drinking at the Pier Hotel – she was not making much sense, “Ms Clark said.

She added her client got “stuck” in a part of the hotel and had to call Professor Ross to rescue her and had periods of memory loss.

Pair acted ‘foolishly’ but were ‘fully conscious’

Stephen Apps, for Professor Ross, told the tribunal that Dr Nguyen initiated the kiss between them as they walked home from the Glenelg Pier Hotel after 2am.

He said CCTV showed Dr Nguyen was steady on her feet and could walk unaided back to the Stamford Grand hotel.

He said Professor Ross felt guilty about the sexual encounter because he was married so stopped it, and Dr Nguyen “seemed annoyed”.

“They were both affected by alcohol, they both acted stupidly – something they would never have done if they were sober,” Mr Apps told the tribunal.

“The crucial thing is they were fully conscious – there was no sexual harassment; Dr Nguyen was a willing participant.”

Mr Apps told the tribunal that Dr Nguyen started telling colleagues about the sexual encounter with Professor Ross and mentioned she had been drunk.

He said one colleague she spoke to mentioned that if she was too drunk to remember parts of the encounter, she must have been unable to consent.

Jane Abbey, for the University of Adelaide, told the tribunal that the university took allegations of sexual harassment “very seriously”, but it was not responsible for the conduct of Professor Ross because it did not occur at work.

She submitted to the tribunal that both Professor Ross and Dr Nguyen were working during the hours of the conference but not afterwards.

However, Ms Clark said her client would argue they were working from the time they checked in and checked out of the conference.

The hearing continues.

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