30 May 2019

Pro Bono work sees almost $80,000 in compensation for workplace racism

By David Hillard, Jess Morath

We hope this outcome has given him a sense of justice and will help him to start afresh.

Emma Vautin, Susie Flynn and Dan Trindade in our Melbourne WRES team have secured a fantastic result at conciliation for a pro bono client who had been subjected to sustained racial discrimination at work.  

Our client was born in Kenya, and worked as a storeman in a factory in Melbourne.  During 2016 and 2017, he faced a particularly nasty group of co-workers, who left toy golliwogs and bananas on his desk, made monkey noises to him, told our client that he was not Australian, suggested that he was part of an "African gang" and was a terrorist, and left notes on his desk which gave links to white supremacist websites. The employer seemed unwilling and incapable of dealing with our client's complaints.  Our client toughed all of this out, because he needed a job, but it had an increasing toll on his mental health.  Eventually he was diagnosed with depression, was under the care of a psychiatrist, and was unable to go to work.

We instructed Fiona Knowles of counsel in proceedings brought before VCAT under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) and Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic).  The matter was resolved at conciliation with the employer paying our client $75,000 in general damages plus an additional 4 weeks' wages and making an apology. Our client has now left the employer, but our resolution permits him to continue separate workers compensation proceedings for the wages he lost from being unable to go to work due to his psychiatric injury. 

What happened to our client was truly awful. Hopefully this outcome has given him a sense of justice and will help him to start afresh, at an employer where racism is not part of the work environment. 

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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.