Commissioner for Equal Opportunity e-bulletin

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September 2018

From the Commissioner - Impartiality and confidentiality are key

There are two main functions at the Equal Opportunity Commission. One is community education and awareness raising about the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 and the Commission, the other is an avenue of redress for unlawful discrimination and harassment.

Education and awareness raising is a very public function. It includes training sessions, events, media and the production of information publications.   

In this role the Commission publicly promotes a society free from unlawful discrimination and harassment.

So, it may be surprising to some that the complaint handling process, which may include conciliation, is both impartial and confidential.                       

The process needs to be impartial to be conducive to reaching an agreed outcome before it ends up in the State Administrative Tribunal, which is a lengthier process.

It is also best kept confidential to allow both parties the freedom to discuss their views openly and honestly in a frank manner without prejudice.

There are many platforms to publicly air grievances now, with social media becoming an increasingly popular option; however, that can invite adverse responses which may make matters worse.

Of course, there are occasions where the conciliation process fails and when this happens the other option is for the matter to be resolved in the State Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal). 

If the matter is not resolved through mediation at the Tribunal, then it will go to a hearing where the matter will be accessible to the public through court transcripts.

To increase the chances of a successful conciliation conference parties do need to be prepared to participate.

A respondent needs to be prepared to listen to a complainant and a complainant needs to be able to support their allegations with factual evidence.

As the onus of proof is on the complainant, a hunch that a respondent has discriminated against a person without evidence may not be successful.

Our investigation process aims to ensure there is enough information put to the respondent, so they understand the position of the complainant.

Often without proper evidence of discrimination a complaint will be dismissed.

This is an outcome to be avoided as it doesn’t resolve the issue for anyone.

A dismissed complaint can be referred on the complainant’s behalf to the Tribunal, but the dismissal of a complaint because it is lacking in evidence is often a good indication that the complaint will not succeed in the Tribunal.

The Commission’s function is to try to deal with issues of discrimination and harassment before they reach the Tribunal.

Staff knowledge of discrimination and harassment means it is the best place to deal with these issues at state level.

 

 

Acting Commissioner for Equal Opportunity John Byrne

 Acting Commissioner Dr John Byrne

 


 

Boofhead allowed in RSL

Peter Reurich suffers from Social Communication Disorder which manifests in an aggressive demeanour and episodes of anxiety.

He has a Bearded Border Collie, Boofhead, who has been with Mr Reurich since the dog’s birth.

Boofhead is well groomed and has regular visits to the vet.

Mr Reurich’s said that when he does not have Boofhead with him, he feels like his is missing something and becomes anxious.

According to Mr Reurich’s psychologist, Tamara Lee, from her interactions with Mr Reurich, the presence of his dog seems to soften his demeanour and reduce his outward anxiety symptoms.

In 2014 Mr Reurich applied to mindDog, which is an organisation that assists people to procure, train and accredit psychiatric assistance dogs, and in 2015 Boofhead passed the mindDog public access test.

Mr Reurich was also a member of the RSL Club (the Club) in Jervis Bay. He had been a member of the Club since May 2013 and would go there to socialise.

Before Boofhead got his trainee jacket and licence, Mr Reurich would sometimes bring him to the Club but leave him outside; however, when Boofhead became a trainee service dog Mr Reurich brought him inside the Club, as he believed he had the right to do.

Concerned Boofhead was not a “seeing eye” dog, and not being aware that Mr Reurich had a mental disability, or that dogs could legitimately provide a service for people with mental impairment, Club staff and management questioned Boofhead’s papers which agitated Mr Reurich.

Not long after there was an altercation with the driver of the Club courtesy bus who complained that Mr Reurich’s dog was dirty and smelled.

Club staff member Ms Muscat made enquiries about service dogs with the Australian Human Rights Commission and mindDogs about whether a service dog could be denied entry because it was unkempt and unhygienic.

The advice Ms Muscat was given was that service dogs had to meet hygiene standards fit for a public place.

From December 2014 to June 2015 there were then a series of incidents where the Club staff refused Boofhead entry because they felt he was unkempt, dirty and smelled.

This agitated Mr Reurich, and his agitated responses saw him suspended from the Club and eventually banned for life.

Mr Reurich made a disability discrimination complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission which eventually finished in the Federal Court.

Judge Markovic of the Federal Court found Mr Reurich did have a disability and that the Club was aware of it.

The Club submitted that evidence didn’t establish Boofhead had been trained to assist a person with a disability or meet standards of hygiene and behaviour appropriate for an animal in a public place.

Judge Markovic of the Federal Court felt Boofhead met the standards to be a service dog for Mr Reurich’s disability and relied on assessment of Boofhead’s condition by mindDog to reach conclusion that the dog was also fit to meet public hygiene standards.

The judge also found the Club had discriminated against Mr Reurich on the grounds of his disability and ordered it to pay damaged of $16,000.

To read the full decision click here.

 


 

Positive gender discrimination up for debate

Manager Commission Services Diana MacTiernan and Community Education Officer Mike Harte observed a debate between students of Curtin University’s Built Environment faculty on the topic ‘Do strategies for positive discrimination for women create good outcomes?’

Following the debate where students covered topics such as quotas for women, family responsibilities and the gender pay gap, Diana and Mike gave feedback, taking the opportunity to educate the students on discrimination and harassment.

“The students already had a solid understanding human rights and equal opportunity concepts, and this certainly came through during the debate,” Diana said.

During his feedback Mike spoke about his experience as primary carer for his children while his wife returned to work full-time to help bust some myths the students held about traditional gender roles.

“It was interesting that none of the students spoke about flexible work strategies for men so women could remain in the workforce full time,” he said.

He said for many this idea was still not on the radar.

“I think it is important that we weave this into more conversations about gender equity.

“Workplaces need to put strategies in place to encourage men to take on more family responsibilities, and from my experience, I would say most men would be grateful for that opportunity,” he said.

Following the debate Diana and Mike conducted an interactive education session to expand students’ knowledge on what was types of discrimination and harassment were considered unlawful under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

“As the students had already researched and spoken about equal opportunity laws it was timely to hold this session as there was strong participation from the class,” Diana said.

Diana and Mike giving feedback at Curtin University

Diana and Mike giving feedback

 


 

Wearing it purple at the Commission

Commission staff dressed in purple to hand out information brochures about equal opportunity throughout Perth’s Central Business District (CBD) to mark Wear it Purple day on 31 August.

Wear it Purple day was established in 2010 in response to the high suicide rate of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex) youth because of bullying and harassment.

Wear it Purple day has now developed into an international movement committed to the respect of diversity and social equality, concepts also championed by the Commission.

“As Commissioner, and personally, I believe diversity should be celebrated not derided,” Acting WA Commissioner for Equal Opportunity Dr John Byrne said.

He said there was strength in diversity, as a homogenous society simply did not exist.

“Wearing it Purple is a worthwhile initiative because it celebrates diversity and youth, two things absolutely vital to a functioning society,” he said.

Commission staff dressed in purple interacted with workers on their lunch break, shoppers and people visiting the CBD to let them know more about equal opportunity and what the Commission does.

“It was a great opportunity to get to know our neighbours and provide outreach to nearby businesses through chatting to people on their lunchbreaks,” Manager Commission Services Diana MacTiernan said.

Commission staff dressed in purple outside office

Commission staff dressed purple getting read to hand out brochures

 


 

What’s coming up

The Commission’s Training Calendar from July to December 2018 is now available. You can register for all Commission courses on the Community Education page.

September 11                      Introduction to Equal Opportunity Law

September 18 & 19             Equity Grievance Officer Role (2 days)

Please contact us on 9216 3900 if you are interested in organisation specific training or for a rights-based session for your clients or community members.


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