HKFP Reports Hong Kong Law & Crime

Sexual harassment whistleblower to receive HK$1m payout after being fired by performing arts school

The Hong Kong Academy for Performing arts (HKAPA) and the School of Drama’s dean Ceri Sherlock are set to pay ex-employee Peter Jordan HK$1 million after he sued the school in a case related to sexual harassment. Jordan accused Sherlock of victimising him and terminating his employment after he confronted him over rumours of sexual harassment.

Jordan, who worked at HKAPA between 1998 to 2013, took legal action against the school and his former boss under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance last April. He argued that he was victimised and treated unfavourably on account of him providing information about his superior’s alleged improper conduct when directing a production entitled “The Park”, according to the notice of claim Jordan filed against him.

Jordan’s lawyer, Michael Vidler, said that the case was lodged with the Equal Opportunities Commission, but both respondents refused to participate in conciliation.

hkapa

HKAPA. Photo: Google Maps.

The courts originally denied HKFP access to the notice of claim, but later relented.

The HKAPA refused to comment whilst litigation was in progress; Sherlock did not respond to enquires.

‘More than an irritant’ 

Jordan heard rumours around campus in 2011 that Sherlock had sexually harassed students at the school when directing a production according to the court documents obtained by HKFP. When Jordan mentioned the rumours to him in December 2011, he became defensive, denied the allegations, and left the room in anger, the document read.

Jordan then left Hong Kong on professional leave, and upon his return in January 2012, discovered a letter sent to him by Sherlock, copied to various other members of the management staff. In the letter, Sherlock told Jordan: “Your antagonism and insubordination toward me have become more than an irritant and have had a negative and detrimental effect on School meetings and morale… I have no confidence in your ability to execute the role of Head of Acting and manage the Acting Department.”

hkapa

HKAPA. Photo: Googlemaps.

HKAPA review dissolved 

Jordan regarded his boss’ behaviour as suspicious and made a discrimination complaint, obtaining statements from students who were the alleged victims of, and witnesses to, Sherlock’s improper conduct, the notice of claim read. He also filed a complaint with the HKAPA over Sherlock’s behaviour towards him, which he regarded as victimisation and professional misconduct.

However, the document said that a hearing panel that was to review both the sexual harassment claims and the victimisation of Jordan was dissolved without explanation.

According to the document, Jordan was continuously intimidated and defamed by his superior up till August 2013, when his employment was terminated. Sherlock accused him of being after the dean’s job, calling him “disgruntled” and “extremely lazy” after some Drama School alumni initiated a campaign in his support.

Jordan said that Sherlock accused him of being “evil, unhinged, and unpredictable” and “an out of control human being”. He stripped him of some work duties and gave “untrue” and “exaggerated” comments on his appraisal, the document said.

‘Isolated and abused’

“I was very sad to leave,” Jordan told HKFP. “Traditionally when people leave after a long period of service… the students would arrange a farewell party. The way the academy did it was, they notified me by letter of my non-renewal of contract while I was on holiday, and I effectively had three working days to get out of the office…it was very painful.”

“I worked there for 15 years – it was one of the greatest pleasures of my life… guiding [young people] to discover their own creativity. It was a job I really loved. But the last two years it just became an absolute nightmare, because I was being isolated and abused at the same time,” Jordan said.

Ceri Sherlock

Ceri Sherlock.

Procedure ‘should be reviewed’

“Even when his contract wasn’t renewed, he was still paid his gratuity,” Michael Vidler, the lawyer acting on behalf of Jordan, told HKFP. “Part of the alleged vilification is an attempt to blacken his name, to say that he was incompetent… up to the point when he reported this complaint by the students, all his appraisals were satisfactory, good, excellent.”

Vidler said that HKAPA also acted against their own internal policy, which prohibits retaliation against those who make reports of sexual harassment. “[He feels] it’s important that a publicly funded body like the [HKAPA] – their disciplinary procedures and complaints procedure should be reviewed.”

Sexual harassment whistleblower to receive HK$1m payout after being fired by performing arts school