Sally Rugg has ramped up her legal fight against teal independent MP Monique Ryan and the federal government after their attempt at mediation failed.
The political staffer and left wing activist will seek to add a claim of “serious contraventions” of the Fair Work Act against the commonwealth when the high profile case returns to court on Friday.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers principal Josh Bornstein said they would make the claim, which carries a maximum penalty of $660,000, because he said Dr Ryan had “publicly acknowledged” her staff were working 70-hour weeks and that it wasn’t safe.
“In addition, the Commonwealth has been on notice of unlawful excessive hours being worked for parliamentary staffers for many years, including by reason of inquiries and reports to parliament,” Mr Bornstein said on Thursday afternoon.
Lawyer Josh Bornstein and staffer Sally Rugg are suing Monique Ryan and the commonwealth in the Federal Court. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Ascui
Ms Rugg has taken the commonwealth – her technical employer – and Dr Ryan to the Federal Court over an alleged breach of workplace law.
She claims the Kooyong MP tried to sack her as her chief of staff after just six months when she refused to work additional “unreasonable” hours.
Court documents reveal Ms Rugg claims the commonwealth made “adverse action” against her and denied her the right to refuse to “work additional hours that were unreasonable”.
According to the documents, the commonwealth attempted to dismiss her effective from January 31.
Ms Rugg alleges the commonwealth “contravened” the Fair Work Act by attempting to “injure the applicant in her employment by engaging in hostile conduct in the workplace”.
Lawyers representing the commonwealth, Dr Ryan and Ms Rugg appeared before the Federal Court in Melbourne earlier this month.
At the interlocutory hearing, Ms Rugg sought for the court to impose an injunction preventing her termination from taking effect.
Dr Ryan employed Ms Rugg as her chief of staff after winning Kooyong at the last federal election. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Ascui
The court heard the parties had reached an agreement to extend her employment until 5pm on January 17 to allow mediation to take place.
Mr Bornstein said on Thursday the lawsuit would be a “test case” for what constitutes “reasonable” overtime or additional hours for parliamentary staffers and could affect other white-collar employees in the labour market.
He said if Ms Rugg succeeded it would “open the door” for further litigation including class actions, not only for commonwealth employees but for other workers who believe they have been exploited by a contractual obligation to perform undefined “reasonable additional hours”.
The Federal Court will hear Ms Rugg’s application for an injunction to restrain the termination of her employment on Friday morning.
After that issue is determined, Ms Rugg will then pursue her claims for compensation and other orders against the commonwealth and Dr Ryan.
Dr Ryan has been contacted for comment.