Passenger Sues P&O Australia for "Cougar" Jibe

August 21, 2012

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(1.00 p.m. EDT) -- A female passenger is suing P&O Australia for AU$1m (£667,000) on the grounds of sexual harassment by a judge in a talent show onboard.

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, Kate Strahan, 50, took part in the cruise line's ‘Popstars' contest last November on a Pacific Jewel cruise in the South Pacific.

She appeared in a strapless, mock leopardskin dress as Tina Turner, singing ‘River Deep, Mountain High'.
But one of the judges, British entertainer Rory Healey, made comments about her figure and claimed he could see her underwear through the dress.

This was all captured on video and appeared to be taken in good humour by Ms. Strahan, but she was allegedly interviewed backstage later, after which she accused Healey of making lewd gestures at an image of her on screen. Ms. Strahan, a nurse, and her husband, John O'Brian, are now suing the company, claiming she is so stressed by Healey's behavior that she has been unable to work.

While we can't see what went on backstage, Healey's initial remarks can be clearly heard on an amateur video of the event and although inappropriate, do suggest that there might be two sides to any story. He says: “You may be dressed like a leopard but you're more like a tiger.” Ms. Strahan replies: “A cougar, you mean.” Healey then says, “…You can ‘cougar' me at any time.”

P&O Australia is contesting the lawsuit. Spokesman Peter Taylor acknowledged in the newspaper report that the remarks were in poor taste and said the couple had been offered an apology and Healey had been reprimanded and his contract has not been renewed.
"While there is disagreement surrounding the allegation, any incident of this nature is unfortunate and does not reflect the high standard of staff behaviour and passenger service offered across our ships," a statement said. Like any other organisation facing private civil litigation, particularly where a claim is excessive as in this case, we will consider our legal options.”

There is also debate as to whether the claim is even valid, as the event took place outside the jurisdiction of the Australian courts (the talent show was held when the ship was in international waters). The fact that Pacific Jewel, the old Ocean Village 2, is flagged in Great Britain, further complicates matters. Nonetheless, the case returns to court on September 21.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor