Actor Christie Whelan Browne sues production company Oldfield over alleged discrimination

Lawyers for a stage production company accused of discriminating against an actress who claimed she was sexually harassed by co-star Craig McLachlan will seek to have key evidence suppressed.

Christie Whelan Browne launched legal proceedings in the Federal Court of NSW in Sydney on Friday against Oldfield Entertainment (Oldfield), formerly known as GFO Entertainment.

Ms Browne claimed she experienced unlawful discrimination after making the allegations in 2018 against co-star Craig McLachlan following the Rocky Horror Show’s 2014 Australia tour.

Oldfield’s lawyers are now seeking to have elements of Ms Browne’s statement of claim, which outlined the allegations, suppressed over concerns it would cause Mr McLachlan “embarrassment”.

“The orders are necessary to avoid causing a non-party (Mr McLachlan) undue stress or embarrassment, which could cause him to not co-operate in these proceedings,” lawyer Bronwyn Byrnes said.

“While there has been reporting in the media surrounding the criminal and defamation proceedings, that reporting did cause Mr McLachlan considerable distress and embarrassment.”

Mr McLachlan has repeatedly denied the allegations and was acquitted in court in 2020 of charges relating to alleged offences of a sexual nature, including acts of indecency.

In 2018, he launched defamation proceedings against media outlets for their coverage of the allegations, which he dropped in 2022 before key witnesses took the stand.

Ms Byrnes said it was likely that if a suppression order was not made that “undue stress” would be repeated despite Ms Browne’s lawyer claiming there was no evidence that would be the case.

Ms Browne’s lawyer, Kate Eastman, argued that the matter was the subject of “significant public attention over many years” and elements sought to be suppressed may already be public knowledge.

“This is not an appropriate order to be made at a directions hearing … The respondent (Oldfield) hasn’t identified any particular prejudice that would require an application of this kind,” she said.

Ms Browne claimed Mr McLachlan, best known for his roles in Australian soap operas, had sexually harassed her during the pair’s time on the show, where she played the role of Janet Weiss.

Upon the filing earlier this month, Ms Browne said in a media statement that Oldfield’s behaviour towards her, including after the reports, constituted unlawful sex discrimination.

In her statement, she alleged the company “unlawfully discriminated” against her by subjecting her to sexual discrimination, repeated sexual harassment by a cast member and victimisation after she spoke out.

The allegations relate to Ms Browne’s experience when she was employed as a lead actor on the long-running show in 2014 as well as Oldfield’s response to her complaints from 2017 onward.

Lawyers representing Oldfield revealed on Friday they would be seeking a summary dismissal or permanent stay of the claims, owing to the lapse in time since the alleged incidents.

“We are significantly prejudiced by the delay … named individuals in the statement of claim no longer work for the respondent (Oldfield), and haven’t for many years,” lawyer Ms Byrnes said.

“We can therefore no longer direct those individuals to participate in these proceedings. The respondent is not even sure where many of these individuals currently reside.

“It’s a question of having to issue subpoenas for these witnesses to give evidence … the recollection of the witnesses will have diminished significantly over that time.”

Ms Browne previously filed a complaint against the company in the Australian Human Rights Commission, which found in February the matter “could not be settled by conciliation”.

Lawyers for Oldfield told the court that this complaint was terminated by a delegate of the Commission’s president because it was brought eight and half years after the alleged incidents.

Moving forward, Ms Eastman urged the court to produce a clear timetable for the proceedings, which she said ought to be “trauma-informed” and would give Ms Browne some certainty.

“Our client (Ms Browne), as you know, has been subjected to a lot of media attention in relation to some of the subject matter of this proceeding,” Ms Eastman told the court.

“I‘m concerned about a process that requires her to prepare a very detailed written affidavit regarding all of those incidents again, but I think she will be able to give her evidence orally.”

The court was told Ms Byrnes was yet to make formal application for a suppression order, which would allow for both Ms Eastman and members of the media to give evidence.

Justice Elizabeth Raper adjourned the matter until September 25, for an application to either be heard or for a timetable to be set for that to occur over the coming months.

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