Former Liberal staffer Rachelle Miller has engaged lawyers to bring a workplace harassment suit against the now education minister, Alan Tudge, and employment minister, Michaelia Cash.
The suit, to be run by Gordon Legal, relates to Miller’s allegations she was bullied when working as a senior media adviser while she and Tudge engaged in a consensual affair, and during her subsequent employment with Cash.
On Sunday the Nine metro newspapers reported, and Guardian Australia confirmed, that Miller has engaged Gordon Legal to seek compensation for her treatment, including allegedly being belittled in Tudge’s office and deprived of further career progression once shuffled into Cash’s office.
“We can confirm that Gordon Legal are acting for Rachelle Miller, but at this stage we cannot make any further comments,” Gordon Legal said in a statement.
Miller’s allegations were first revealed by ABC’s Four Corners in November, at which time she submitted a formal complaint to the finance department – responsible for ministerial staff – before she obtained legal representation.
Gordon Legal was responsible for winning a $1.2bn settlement on behalf of 400,000 people who had an illegal debt levied against them by the Coalition’s robodebt scheme.
A spokesman for Cash reportedly said the minister “strenuously rejects claims of any adverse treatment of Ms Miller by her, or her office, and strongly disputes Ms Miller’s version of events”.
“At the time of her employment, between late 2017 and mid-2018, the minister and the office understood Ms Miller’s personal circumstances which is why support, leave and flexible work arrangements were offered to her.
“Given the matter is subject to a formal process in the Department of Finance, the minister will not be commenting further.”
In November, Miller said she had spoken out because other women were subjected to a toxic culture in Canberra. The culture of parliamentary work has come under renewed focus due to Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’s allegation she was raped by a fellow staffer in defence minister Linda Reynolds’s office in March 2019.
“I saw a lot of really poor behaviour in my time in parliament and I feel I let down a lot of women,” Miller had said.
“As a senior staffer, I could have done a lot more to stand up for people. Instead, there was a culture of kind of just putting your head down and not getting involved. I think that it’s really important now for me to be able to speak out and say that this behaviour wasn’t OK.”
In November, Tudge issued a statement about the airing of “matters that occurred in my personal life in 2017”, admitting the relationship.
“I regret my actions immensely and the hurt it caused my family,” he said. “I also regret the hurt that Ms Miller has experienced.”
The government attempted to stop the broadcast of the Four Corners episode. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, declined to launch any further investigation into Miller’s allegations, saying it happened under Malcolm Turnbull’s government and there had been no breaches of the ministerial code of conduct under his administration.
After the Four Corners episode, Tudge posted on Facebook pleading with his constituents for a second chance and an opportunity to regain their trust.
Tudge did not name Miller in his statement, only referring to her as “my media adviser”, and said his “huge mistake” was “this week held up in lights nationally”, reopening “wounds” three years later.
“My mistake was an affair with a married woman with children,” Tudge said in his post.
“I was a married man. And she was my most senior media person. A minister and his or her media adviser work closely together, particularly at the national level. You are constantly on the road, travelling from one location to the other, working long hours and often under pressure.
“In this situation, the error was mine and I take responsibility.
“There is nothing that justifies what I did and I will regret my actions for the rest of my life. The affair ended my 20-year relationship with my wife, a beautiful person. We separated in late 2017 but remain close. I will never be able to say sorry to her enough for the hurt I caused.”
Guardian Australia contacted Tudge for comment.