Qantas guilty of race, disability discrimination

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Qantas guilty of race, disability discrimination

A former Qantas mechanical aircraft engineer who endured racist remarks and allegations his workplace injuries were not legitimate, has been awarded over $70,000 in damages.

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A former Qantas mechanical aircraft engineer who endured racist remarks and allegations his workplace injuries were not legitimate, has been awarded over $70,000 in damages.

Employed as a Qantas licensed aircraft mechanical engineer in 1982, the employee has not worked since May 2002 with the company, after suffering four separate work-related injuries (over a period of eight years) and depression resulting from his treatment at work. 

The worker sought damages under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, alleging Qantas breached both Acts.

Disability claims  

The complaints of disability discrimination arise out of the alleged treatment of the worker following him suffering injuries at work and the sequelae of both those injuries and their treatment.  

Evidence submitted to the Federal Magistrate’s Court included: 

  • his supervisor criticising the worker’s use of the workers compensation system, intimating that his regular use was not legitimate; and

  • his supervisor told a meeting of engineers that the worker ‘knew how manipulate the workers compensation system’.

He alleged he was treated ‘less favourably’ because of his disability than Qantas would have treated other persons without the disability, by denying him access to, or limiting his access to, opportunities for promotion, transfer or training.  

The worker also alleged that Qantas is vicariously liable for the actions of its employees because the discriminatory conduct that was engaged in by those persons was within their authority and that Qantas failed to take reasonable precautions or exercise due diligence to avoid the conduct. 

Race claims 

In relation to the race claims, the worker alleged he had been referred to as a ‘Bombay taxi driver’, a monkey, and various ‘black’ remarks by co-workers and superiors. 

The particulars of this allegation include discriminating against him in relation to reporting requirements and general treatment with respect to sick leave and work attendance.  

The worker was never given a promotion during his employment and after 1998 he alleges that his supervisor deliberately forwarded on applications late so that they were invalid.  

Damages awarded 

Federal Magistrate Raphael found the worker had proven that, on the balance of probabilities, the racist comments and allegations of compensation fraud had occurred and had caused significant stress at the workplace. 

However, the Magistrate did not find the worker had been denied any training or promotional opportunities as a result of the discrimination, finding there was little evidence he had applied for many roles. 

‘I have found that there was a general culture inimical to persons of Asian background. But the evidence does not go further than the making of racially insensitive remarks. This is not to deny the seriousness of such conduct,’ he said.  

‘But there was no evidence which would permit me to draw inferences that the conduct permeated down the rather bureaucratic systems through which Qantas worked its employment policies, particularly those relating to training, transfers and promotions.’

The Court awarded the worker $71,692 in damages, taking into account medical expenses (including psychiatrist appointments) and an award of $40,000 for the proven discriminatory actions. 

Gama v Qantas Airways Ltd (No.2) [2006] FMCA 1767 (8 December 2006)

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