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Australia

Underbelly actor denies sexual harassment claims

Lawyers for actor Damian Walshe-Howling have asked a female actor who has accused him of sexually harassing her on the set of Bikie Wars to produce medical evidence to support her claim the alleged incident left her unable to work and she should be compensated for lost income.

Rebecca Wilson, who appeared as an extra in the role of "Bandido Party Girl" in two episodes of the Channel Ten 2012 television miniseries, is suing Mr Walshe-Howling and production company Screentime for sexual harassment in the Federal Circuit Court in Sydney.

Damian Walshe-Howling in his breakthrough role as Benji Veniamin in Underbelly.

Damian Walshe-Howling in his breakthrough role as Benji Veniamin in Underbelly.

The 32-year-old is also suing the production company for sex discrimination, claiming she was treated "less favourably" than a male employee in the same circumstances.

In a statement of claim filed in court, Ms Wilson alleges Mr Walshe-Howling "forcibly kissed" her on the lips during filming in December 2011, including "forcing his tongue into her mouth to contact her tongue".

She alleges the kiss was "non-consensual and un-scripted" and Mr Walshe-Howling held her "by the back of the head so that she was unable to free herself".

Ms Wilson alleges Mr Walshe-Howling said "just pretend!" and "just do it!" when she indicated she did not want to kiss him, and later "grabbed her by the arms" and said words to the effect of "isn't that what you're here for?"

In a defence filed in court on October 28, Mr Walshe-Howling denied the claims. The 48-year-old is best known for his role as tattooed killer Benji Veniamin in the TV series Underbelly but has appeared in a string of other Australian dramas including the ABC's Janet King.

Lawyers for the parties appeared in court on Monday for the first preliminary hearing.

Ms Wilson has claimed she suffered economic loss as a result of the alleged harassment because she had a "reduced capacity to work" immediately after the alleged incident, and has been unable to work since August 2012.

She is seeking damages for "hurt, humiliation and distress", aggravated damages, and compensation for past and future economic loss and medical expenses.

Barrister Sue Chrysanthou, for Mr Walshe-Howling, sought a court order requiring Ms Wilson to produce medical evidence prior to a court-ordered mediation to support her claim she was unable to work as a result of the alleged harassment.

Ms Chrysanthou described the claim as "in effect a personal injury claim" and said it was "unusual to say the least".

Mediation is a standard feature of federal court disputes and may result in the case being settled before trial.

Judge Tom Altobelli made the order and told the parties: "Good luck at the mediation."

The parties will return to court in March.

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ICO