Court hears of 'threesome' bid on Sunshine Coast
A MILLIONAIRE Queensland businessman, whose company is at the centre of a controversy over its six-figure NRL sponsorship, has been accused of propositioning a junior staffer for a "threesome", a court has been told.
Brett Thomas, managing director of Kingston-based TFH Hire Services (TFH), which sponsors the Gold Coast Titans, allegedly asked his then marketing manager, Ashleigh Lynette Martinovic, for "threesomes" with his wife and another employee, on more than one occasion, according to court documents.
The 52-year-old touched the 24-year-old on the buttocks in the office, more than once, made lewd comments to her during work meetings and slept with a co-worker on a business trip just metres from Ms Martinovic, according to documents filed in the Federal Court in Brisbane.
The former staffer, who is suing Mr Thomas and his company for $815,793, claims the persistent sexual harassment continued over 15 months and has left her unable to work for the past year.
Mr Thomas would not comment on the claim this week but is expected to defend the allegations.
Mr Thomas made headlines last week when he sensationally pulled the pin on his company's long-term sponsorship of the Titans, citing Ryan James's "embarrassing" and "offensive" Welcome To Country gaffe during the Grand Final as the catalyst.
On Friday Mr Thomas backflipped, reinstating the deal for 2020, saying in a public statement: "When I stuff up, I stuff up, I'm human like anybody else".
The Federal Court sexual harassment case is alleged to have caused a major rift between the tight-knit members of the Thomas family, which owns TFH Hire.
Ms Martinovic claims in the Federal Court that Mr Thomas allegedly asked her for a threesome along with his wife Mieke Thomas, on her first day after she was hired by Mr Thomas's sister Leesa Gill, 49, from Greenbank.
She claims in court documents that Mr Thomas's unwanted advances left her feeling humiliated, anxious and embarrassed.
Court documents claim Mr Thomas again asked her for a threesome with his wife, while the trio were in a taxi to their hotel after an industry dinner in Sydney on May 11, 2017.
Ms Martinovic claims that, earlier in the night, Mr Thomas's wife "repetitively requested and insisted" she sit on her lap during the event.
She also alleges Mr Thomas asked her again for a threesome in a hotel room after the Australian Event Awards on the Sunshine Coast on September 13, 2017.
Court documents also alleged that on August 17, 2018, Mr Thomas told Ms Martinovic he was planning a threesome with her and another staffer, while staying at the Novotel Hotel in Manly for a Gold Coast Titans vs Manly Sea Eagles NRL match.
"We will push the beds together and have a threesome with her," he allegedly said, pointing to another female TFH staffer. Ms Martinovic claims that Mr Thomas had sexual intercourse with the female staffer in a room at the Novotel while she pretended to sleep, just metres away.
She alleges the harassment was not just on trips to Sydney, but also at TFH headquarters, where Mr Thomas is alleged to have told her, "You can tell you play soccer", as he touched Ms Martinovic's buttocks while she walked through a doorway on October 12, 2017.
Mr Thomas also allegedly "poked" her backside with his finger "forcefully" in front of staff on July 9, 2018.
Ms Martinovic's claims that Mieke Thomas insisted she sit on her lap, grabbed on the bottom and treated her inappropriately are corroborated by three other staff members, who have sworn statements filed in court.
Ms Gill, who is a one-quarter owner of TFH with her two brothers and father, is one of the alleged key witnesses to the "insistent" request by Mr Thomas and his wife that Ms Martinovic sit on one of their laps, which Ms Gill says in court documents she found to be "extremely inappropriate".
Ms Gill also witnessed her brother tell Ms Martinovic she had "a nice arse" several times at work, she says in her statement tendered in court.
Less than a month after the alleged lap incident, Ms Gill quit her role as CFO of TFH and her role as a director of a debt collection company.
Another witness, who supports Ms Martinovic, swore a statement that he heard Mr Thomas tell Ms Martinovic, "It's OK, it was only my phone", after he walked up behind her and "brushed himself" against her.
Contacted for comment, Mr Thomas initially told The Sunday Mail he was unaware of the sexual harassment claim, despite his lawyers having submitted a response to the court.
When informed of the case details, he said, "Just call the office and make a time … it's all good."
He then hung up.
Ms Martinovic alleges that after she rejected Mr Thomas's advances, she was treated differently, barred from work projects and bullied, with Mr Thomas acting "aggressively" towards her at work.
Ms Martinovic's claim for compensation alleges she has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety and she wants the court to order TFH to apologise to her and to order TFH to introduce a sexual harassment policy for the workplace.
Ms Martinovic has succeeded in receiving statutory benefits under a WorkCover claim, court documents state.
The former marketing manager states in court documents that her job required her to attend awards nights and NRL games with Mr Thomas, where alcohol was consumed.
She claims she was encouraged to consume alcohol at events by Mr Thomas and his wife.
The case was mentioned briefly in the Federal Court before Justice Darryl Rangiah, where he ordered Mr Thomas and TFH file a defence to the claims by December 13, and that the parties try to settle the dispute in mediation by February 28.
Ms Martinovic initially took her sexual harassment case to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), where cases are conciliated and usually end with the woman's resignation and a small cash payment in return for keeping it a secret.
Her case was not settled in the AHRC, so the case went to the Federal Court, where it was made public.