Tackling unlawful discrimination

13 Dec 2023

Every year we act for people who have been treated less favourably because of their background or certain personal characteristics. Here are some of their stories (names have been changed).

Craig is a First Nations man who worked at an abattoir for 4 years. During this time, he was subjected to daily racism from his co-workers (like the time they flushed his shoes down the toilet after he wore a NAIDOC shirt to work).

Craig complained to senior management who did nothing and the conduct worsened. Craig became depressed and took unpaid leave from work, leaving him struggling to support his 4 children.

At conciliation at the Australian Human Rights Commission we were successful in securing regular training on discrimination, bullying and harassment for workers at the abattoir and the opportunity for Craig to resign with a positive written reference and a large amount of general damages in recognition of the hurt, humiliation and distress he experienced.

Craig thanked us for effectively communicating how the discrimination made him feel at conciliation. Thrilled with the result he told his lawyer, "You're a f***ing rockstar. Sorry for swearing, but you are".

Originally from Zimbabwe, Tamara is a 22-year-old fashion student, working casually in a client facing role. One day, Tamara turned up to work with her hair in braids, tied back in a single ponytail. Tamara told us braids are an important expression of culture for her. She also likes wearing braids to keep her hair healthy and to avoid hours of styling.

While the employer's grooming standards were silent on braids, Tamara was told to remove her braids or lose her job. Tamara felt she had no choice but to resign and told us she was "made to feel like I had to deny who I was at work" and was left feeling "profoundly disconnected from my heritage".

Through conciliation at the Australian Human Rights Commission, we were able to assist Tamara to resolve her complaint for payment of general damages, a written apology and revised grooming standards to include imagery of braids as being acceptable. Tamara told us "hopefully it allows more people of colour to feel more comfortable in the workplace".

12-year-old Ryan has autism and wanted to participate in sports programs at a local youth centre. When Kate, his mother, tried to enrol him, she discovered there was a "life ban" against Ryan at the centre.

The ban had apparently been imposed due to an alleged incident at a vacation program when Ryan was 9-years old. Kate received no notice of her son's ban from the centre at the time and was not provided with details about the ban once she learned of it.

Ryan's personal development and management of his autism had significantly improved. Despite Kate offering to pay for support workers to provide Ryan with full-time supervision at the youth centre, the youth centre refused Ryan from using their facilities.

We were able to assist Kate and Ryan by negotiating a resolution directly with the youth centre resulting in Ryan's "life ban" being lifted and Ryan being allowed to enrol in the sports programs alongside other children his age.

David is an experienced miner living with bipolar disorder. David had fallen on hard times and was living out of his car when he applied for and was offered a job.

The employer asked David to undergo a pre-employment health assessment which confirmed David was fit to undertake the position offered, subject to ongoing management his bipolar disorder.

On becoming aware that David was being treated for bipolar, the employer rescinded the offer of employment without explanation. David became extremely concerned that he would be unable to meet his loan repayments and that his car would be repossessed, leaving him homeless on the streets.

We assisted David to lodge a general protections complaint to the Fair Work Commission on the basis of disability discrimination in prospective employment. At conciliation, we secured David payment of general damages in recognition of the distress and anxiety caused to him.

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.