Sex discrimination case studies

These sex discrimination case summaries are grouped into two categories: court and tribunal decisions, and conciliated outcomes.

Court and tribunal decisions are made after all the evidence is heard, including details of loss and damage. The full text of court and tribunal decisions is available from:

Conciliated outcomes are where the parties have reached an agreement through conciliation at the Queensland Human Rights Commission.

Court and tribunal decisions

Different dress requirements for men

Type of outcome Anti-Discrimination Tribunal decision
Contravention Discrimination
Attribute Sex
Area Work
Outcome Upheld
Remedy Publish an explanation for amendment of policy about earrings, and an apology for delay in resolving the issue
Year 2003

Summary: A male teacher was not allowed to wear an earring, while female staff were allowed to wear earrings. The man tried to resolve the issue with the school, and only complained to the Commission when negotiations failed. As the complaint progressed, things were said about the male teacher which were capable of affecting his reputation.

At the hearing, the school accepted that its refusal to allow the man to wear an earring was discriminatory on the ground of sex. The tribunal said the man had pursued his rights discreetly and respectfully, and he had complied with the requirement not to wear earrings at school.

While the school offered a private apology to the man, the tribunal said that in the absence of a wider acknowledgment by the school, the man would be asked questions when he returned wearing his earring, and it would not be fair to expect him to answer questions about the change in the school’s policy.

Helbig v Bundaberg Christian College Limited [2003] QADT 13

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Conciliated outcomes

Private school allows pants for girls

Type of outcome Conciliation
Contravention Discrimination
Attribute Sex
Area Education
Outcome details Policy change
Published statement of support for the new policy
Publicity for policy change
Year 2018

Summary: A mother lodged a complaint on behalf of her 10-year-old daughter who attended a private co-educational school.

The girl’s mother said the school principal had removed long pants from the winter uniform choices for female students, and that the school provided no option for girls to wear shorts during the summer. She claimed that the lack of uniform choice for girls meant that girls were hampered in their physical activity, sometimes subject to comments about their underwear, and lacked warmth in winter. She claimed that boys were not subjected to the same restrictions with their uniform options.

The reason given by the principal for the change was to address concerns that the uniform standards at the school had ‘slipped recently’.

An anonymity order was granted by the Commission to preserve the privacy of the child in this matter. The face-to-face conciliation conference was held in a location removed from the school community to ensure privacy.

At the conciliation conference, the school agreed to: reintroduce pants into the girls’ winter uniform options; introduce shorts, and a girl-specific shirt, as a summer uniform option; and change the school uniform policy to reflect that girls were now able to wear pants or shorts on formal uniform days. The school principal undertook to make a statement in the school newsletter and at the school assembly supporting the changes. The uniform handbook would also include photos of girls wearing the new uniform options.

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Requiring husband to be present for a quote

Type of outcome Conciliation
Contravention Discrimination
Attribute Sex
Area Goods or services
Outcome details Written apology
Policy change
Develop and implement an anti-discrimination policy
Year Not available

Summary: A woman approached a company to purchase some goods, and asked to make an appointment for a company representative to visit to do an in-home quote. The woman alleges that she was told it would be necessary for her husband to be present at the quote. She asked the company if the same question would be asked of a man in the same situation and said that she was not given an answer.

In response, the company said that its aim is to have all decision-makers present when quotes are given, so as to ensure that the correct information is relayed to all involved in the decision to purchase. The company stated that single or widowed customers are given the option of having a friend with them when a quote is being provided.

In conciliation, the company stated that they had not intended to act in a way that would be considered discriminatory. The company acknowledged the problems associated with advising married customers to have all decision-makers present, and giving an option to other customers (such as those who are single or widowed) to have a friend present. They acknowledged that this was less favourable treatment.

The company provided a written apology to the woman and agreed to develop and implement an anti-discrimination policy. This was done with the assistance of the Commission. After the conference the general manager of the company thanked the Commission for its assistance in bringing to their attention the potential problems with their previous practices. The company stated that they learned a great deal from being party to the complaint and that they will aim to avoid any further complaints being lodged in future.

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Hours cut for female deckhand, but not for males

Type of outcome Conciliation
Contravention Discrimination
Attribute Sex
Area Work
Outcome details Financial compensation
Written apology
Anti-discrimination training
Compensation $12,000
Year Not available

Summary: A woman who had been employed in the office of a water transport business for a number of years, decided to seek employment with the company as deck-hand. She expressed long-term plans to gain a captain's licence.

She alleged she was made to feel unwelcome by her male co-workers who commented to her that the work would be too heavy and dirty for her. The male co-workers conceded, over time, that she was able to perform the duties of the position as well as they could.

Because of a downturn in business the company was forced to reduce work hours for deckhands. As a consequence, her rostered water-time was shortened resulting in loss of hours, loss of training, and career opportunities. She alleged her complaints to the company about unfair treatment by favouring male staff in the rostering times were ignored. In her view, the apparent necessity to reduce hours was unfairly distributed between her and her male colleagues. Her chosen career to aspire to captaincy, she intimated, was seriously jeopardised.

In conciliation, the respondents conceded that there were no female deckhands, acknowledged that the comments about work being 'too heavy and dirty for her' were made, and that this may have influenced the distribution of work.

The complaint was settled by conciliation with payment of $12,000 compensation, a written apology, and agreement that the company would undertake training on anti-discrimination.

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