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Allen, Dominique --- "Remedying Discrimination: The Limits of the Law and the Need for a Systemic Approach" [2010] UTasLawRw 5; (2010) 29(2) University of Tasmania Law Review 83

Remedying Discrimination: the Limits of the Law and the Need for a Systemic Approach



Very few discrimination complaints reach the courts each year. As with other civil litigation, the reasons for this include the cost of pursuing litigation and, particularly for complainants, the risk of losing or receiving less than the complainant could have negotiated prior. Drawing on interviews with lawyers and non-legal advocates in Victoria and an analysis of successful cases in three jurisdictions, this article examines the remedies the court is likely to award in a successful discrimination complaint and considers the effect of this on the eradication of discrimination in society. A comprehensive examination of the remedies awarded in successful discrimination complaints in Victoria over a three year period shows that courts are most likely to order compensation at modest amounts and complainants are not regularly awarded their costs. A comparison with Queensland and the federal system reveals a similar experience. Even in those jurisdictions where wider remedies are available, courts rarely take the opportunity to make broad orders which could affect other similarly situated individuals or deter would-be respondents. While it is necessary to remedy the complainant’s experience, it is also necessary to address broader, systemic discrimination and a compensation award cannot do this. Remedying discrimination with compensation is primarily a problem because it is reactive. Compensation does not address other instances of discrimination in society or achieve systemic change nor does it encourage compliance because the respondent is not required to take anticipatory action to prevent another complaint. Based on the interpretive principles and extensive remedies provided in South Africa’s recent anti-discrimination reforms and a study of remedies ordered by that country’s Equality Courts, the article proposes reforms to Australia’s anti-discrimination legislation to enable courts to make wider orders which target other instances of discrimination in addition to remedying the complainant’s experience.


Discrimination will only be remedied in Australia if an individual victim recognises that the treatment they were subjected to was unlawful discrimination and then chooses to do something about it. The individual lodges a complaint at the statutory equality commission[1] in their jurisdiction or the Australian Human Rights Commission (‘AHRC’). If the equality commission accepts the complaint, it will attempt to resolve it using Alternative Dispute Resolution, usually conciliation. If that is not successful, the complainant can ask the equality commission to refer the complaint for hearing by the relevant tribunal[2] or the Federal Court. Put simply, the onus is on the individual victim to ‘name, blame and claim’.[3] The vast majority of complaints are withdrawn or settled prior to hearing. Courts hear very few complaints each year and a large number are unsuccessful.[4] Therefore, most instances of discrimination are settled behind closed doors with a confidential settlement agreement. The upshot of this process is that the courts have few opportunities to make a public order remedying discrimination that sets a benchmark for how discrimination ought to be remedied.

The purpose of this article is to examine how courts are remedying discrimination. It is concerned with remedies ordered by courts in discrimination complaints[5] and does not consider the outcomes reached at settlement or prior to hearing.[6] This analysis shows that courts predominantly remedy discrimination with compensation. Although compensation may address the victim’s experience — though possibly not their legal costs — it is an ineffective means of remedying discrimination in society.

Part II discusses the nature of discrimination and argues that the Australian legal system has a limited understanding of discrimination. Discrimination is viewed as a one-off, isolated event, not as a wider problem or a symptom of an entrenched policy or practice. The complaint resolution process and the limited range of remedies available supports this understanding, as does the courts’ reluctance to make wider orders. In order to ascertain how discrimination is remedied in Australia, Part III analyses the remedies ordered in successful discrimination cases heard by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (‘VCAT’) during 2006 – 2008. This shows that the tribunal regularly orders compensation, even though other remedies may be sought or the evidence reveals systemic problems. This conclusion is supported by the opinions of a selection of solicitors, barristers and non-legal advocates who practice in discrimination law in Victoria. To triangulate this data, the Victorian experience is compared with Queensland and federal complaints, which reveals a similar experience. Having established that courts regularly remedy discrimination with compensation, Part IV sets out some of the problems with this approach. For instance, the likelihood of a modest compensation award may discourage the individual victim from proceeding with their complaint, particularly because it may not cover their legal fees. Furthermore, remedying discrimination with compensation poses problems for eradicating discrimination in society primarily because it is reactive and does not remedy the situation of similarly situated individuals. An examination of whether courts generally order wider remedies establishes that they do not take a systemic approach to remedying discrimination.

The relatively modern anti-discrimination legislation in South Africa provides an alternative. South Africa’s non-employment discrimination legislation provides a wide range of remedies and courts have been inclined to make broader orders which go beyond the individual parties. Based on an examination of the South African experience, Part V argues that Australian courts should be required to make a systemic order, in addition to remedying the complainant’s experience. It is acknowledged that the South African legislation does not impose a positive requirement on courts but given the country’s history, it is doubtful that this would have been necessary; courts have willingly taken a systemic approach. The Australian experience is quite different. Courts have taken a formalistic approach to equality and viewed discrimination in an individualistic fashion.[7] Given this history, Part VI argues that remedying discrimination systemically should not be left to the court’s discretion; the court should be required to make a wider order. The creative ways that the South African courts have used their remedial powers to tackle other instances of discrimination is used to illustrate this type of approach.


A Discrimination Conceptually

The objective of Australia’s various anti-discrimination laws is to address discrimination and promote equality of opportunity.[8] This is achieved by prohibiting direct and indirect discrimination on a range of attributes, such as race, gender and impairment, in numerous areas, such as employment and education.[9] By prohibiting discrimination, the law intends to remove unfair barriers that prevented marginalised groups from competing, thereby ensuring that people are judged on merit, not according to irrelevant characteristics. Therefore, the purpose of the law is to ensure that likes are treated alike, which is the essence of formal equality. This approach is concerned with regulating the process, not the outcome.[10] It assumes that once unfair barriers are removed, people can compete fairly, ignoring the fact that members of marginalised groups were denied the opportunity to obtain meritorious characteristics to enable them to compete.[11] Consequently, an instance of discrimination is seen as a one-off, isolated event between the individual parties, not as a complex web of entrenched practices of which the individual complaint is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

B Resolving Complaints

This understanding of discrimination is reflected in the way the legal system deals with discrimination complaints; an individual discrimination complaint is not perceived as indicative of a systemic problem, so the legal system addresses discrimination on a case-by-case basis. Enforcing the law is the complainant’s responsibility and they do so by lodging a complaint at an equality commission. If the complaint is accepted, the equality commission will attempt to resolve it, usually through conciliation. If conciliation is not successful, the complainant can ask the equality commission to refer the complaint to the tribunal for hearing. Very few complaints are decided at hearing; most are settled, withdrawn or struck out on procedural grounds.[12] The equality commissions cannot advise or assist the complainant, nor do they play a role in enforcement, although some can appear in litigation, either by intervening or acting as an amicus curiae. Therefore, discrimination which is not complained about goes undetected and the things that the law cannot — and thus does not — challenge are seen as ‘normal’ and part of the accepted way of doing things. Thornton says of this system, the result is that ‘the individual symptoms of the disease alone can be addressed, and never the causative factors within the body politic.’[13]

C Available Remedies

If a discrimination complaint is successful at hearing, there are three remedies courts can award which are common to each jurisdiction: directing the respondent not to repeat or continue the unlawful conduct; requiring the respondent to perform a specified act to redress the complainant’s loss; and financial compensation. Two jurisdictions set an upper limit on compensation awards in discrimination complaints of $40,000.[14] In some jurisdictions, the court can also vary or declare void an agreement made in contravention of the legislation.[15] Other available remedies are reinstatement,[16] the payment of a fine,[17] a public or a private apology made by the respondent[18] or requiring the respondent to implement programs to eliminate discrimination.[19] The Commonwealth and Tasmanian legislation also contain a ‘catch-all’ power under which the court can make any order that it deems appropriate.[20] Three jurisdictions impose restrictions on the orders tribunals can make in representative complaints: in the ACT and Western Australia, an award of damages is prohibited in a representative complaint[21] and in Western Australian and New South Wales, the tribunal is prevented from ordering a respondent to perform any act to redress any loss suffered by the complainants in a representative complaint.[22]

Courts predominantly order narrow remedies, usually compensation, as discussed in Part II. This is due to the law’s limited understanding of the nature of discrimination: if discrimination is perceived of as an isolated event, then it follows that it is only necessary to remedy the unlawful behaviour, rather than seek to change the entrenched policies or practices of which the one-off event is symptomatic. However, within the individual complaints framework, it is possible for courts to encourage systemic change through the remedies that they order. The discussion of South Africa in Part IV shows how such an approach works in practice. It is also worth noting that remedies were not always used so restrictively by Australian courts. Some of the most significant remedies were ordered by courts in Victoria. In two landmark decisions, VCAT’s predecessors made orders which extended beyond the parties to the complaint. In Waters, the Victorian government was ordered to review its new ticketing system on trams and refrain from implementing a public transport proposal.[23] In Wardley, Ansett, a national airline, was ordered to employ the female complainant as a trainee pilot.[24] Both orders were subsequently upheld by the High Court.[25] Furthermore, in the Northland Secondary College case, the then Equal Opportunity Board ordered the Victorian government to re-open a school,[26] which was upheld by the Victorian Court of Appeal.[27] Systemic orders are now less common, as discussed in the next section, which suggests that to achieve broader change, the law needs to deal with discrimination differently. This article argues that courts should be required to remedy unlawful behaviour in a systemic way, as outlined in Part IV.


The first part of this section is an examination of the remedies ordered by VCAT in each successful case heard in the Anti-Discrimination List over a three year period. This establishes that VCAT predominantly orders compensation. Case analysis is compared with the perceptions of representatives practicing in Victoria, which suggests that not only is compensation the most common order made, it is often much less than what the complainant could have settled for and may not cover their legal fees. To determine whether it is an anomaly, Victoria is compared with Queensland and the federal system.

A Remedies in Victoria

The Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (Vic) does not provide courts with any guidance about how to remedy unlawful discrimination. The Act empowers VCAT to make one or more of the following orders:

an order that the respondent refrain from committing any further contravention of this Act in relation to the complainant;

an order that the respondent pay to the complainant within a specified period an amount the Tribunal thinks fit to compensate the complainant for loss, damage or injury suffered in consequence of the contravention;

an order that the respondent do anything specified in the order with a view to redressing any loss, damage or injury suffered by the complainant as a result of the contravention.[28]

VCAT can also grant an injunction or make a declaration.[29] Each subsection refers to ‘the complainant’ which suggests that remedies are only intended to address the individual harm. Thus, on the face of it, the power to do anything other than redressing the complainant’s experience is absent.

1 Tribunal Orders 2006 – 2008

VCAT handed down a total of 129 decisions in the Anti-Discrimination List from 1 January 2006 to 31 December 2008. Fifty-four of those decisions were in response to procedural applications, such as strike out applications and costs orders, and 37 related to exemption applications. Of the 38 remaining, 14 related to sexual harassment and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic). Therefore, 24 decisions were handed down after a substantive hearing of a discrimination complaint during those three years, which constitutes 19 percent of all decisions. Discrimination was found not proven in 16 of those cases, meaning 66 percent of cases were unsuccessful.

VCAT ordered compensation in six of the eight complaints in which discrimination was proven.[30] The compensation awards ranged from $2,000 to $83,368.83, as illustrated by Figure 1. The average compensation award was $35,309.31, the median was $19,842.5. The cases in the numerical order they appear below are: Deckert v Victorian Institute of Dryland Agriculture,[31] Beasley v State of Victoria,[32] Morgan v Dancen Enterprises Pty Ltd,[33] King v Nike Australia Pty Ltd,[34] Duma v Mader International Pty Ltd,[35] and Turner v State of Victoria.[36]

Figure 1: VCAT Compensation Awards: 2006 – 2008


The second highest award of $82,000 in Turner v State of Victoria was reduced to $50,500 on appeal.[37] Compensation was ordered for loss of income and other employment related entitlements. In Duma v Mader International Pty Ltd, the compensation order included $4,000 for humiliation and distress.[38] In Deckert v Victorian Institute of Dryland Agriculture, the complainant was awarded $20,000 for the stress, depression, anxiety and humiliation suffered as a result of the respondent’s breach of the EOAV.[39]

Of those cases in which compensation was not ordered, in one case, the respondent was ordered to offer the complainant the choice between transfer of employment to an equivalent position at a different location or severance pay.[40] No further action was ordered in the other case.[41] In two cases, compensation was awarded along with another remedy: a respondent was ordered to undertake equal opportunity training at the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (‘VEOHRC’) [42] and a respondent was ordered to do something to redress the complainant’s loss.[43] The complainant sought an apology in one case, but it was not granted because the VCAT Member considered the compensation award enough to sufficiently demonstrate how unfavourably the Tribunal viewed the respondent’s conduct.[44]

In half of the successful cases during 2006 – 2008, compensation was the only remedy ordered. It is necessary to examine those cases further to ascertain whether the tribunal could have awarded a wider, systemic remedy and to suggest other suitable remedies. Two cases were instances of discrimination in employment on the basis of impairment.[45] In Duma v Mader International Pty Ltd, the complainant sought reinstatement but it was not granted because Deputy President McKenzie thought it was not appropriate as the relationship had broken down and it would be futile to attempt to restore it.[46] In Deckert v Victorian Institute of Dryland Agriculture, the complainant had resigned, so reinstatement was no longer appropriate.[47] It could be argued that these cases were not symptomatic of systemic problems and were isolated instances of unlawful behaviour that the parties were unable to resolve satisfactorily earlier in the complaint handling process. Without knowing whether either respondent was a ‘repeat offender’,[48] that is what the evidence tendered in both cases suggests. However, as discussed in Part I, that is the nature of the complaint resolution process used in Australia: it deals with the individual instance, making it difficult to identify the systemic aspects. Given this, presumably every case would benefit from a wider order to some degree. In both of the aforementioned cases, the unlawful conduct occurred in an employment context and resulted in the break-down of the employment relationship. Therefore, VCAT could have ordered an audit of the respondents’ policies and procedures to determine whether they are compliant with the EOAV or ordered the respondents to attend training provided by the VEOHRC.

King v Nike Australia Pty Ltd is also an employment discrimination complaint but on the basis caring responsibilities. The complainant was still employed by the respondent and sought to be appointed to an equivalent position to what she had held prior to taking maternity leave. As such a position was already occupied, VCAT could not make that order.[49] However, it may have been appropriate for VCAT to order an audit of policies, particularly those relating to employees with caring responsibilities. Senior Member Walker noted that the respondent’s directors would probably further consider the issues raised during the hearing and change procedures accordingly but declined to order respondent to do this.[50]

The Tribunal took a similar approach in the final case, Beasley v State of Victoria. Deputy President McKenzie found that the school the respondent operated had used a less effective method of non-written communication to instruct the complainant, who was profoundly deaf, which limited his participation and opportunities for participation in the classroom.[51] Deputy President McKenzie said that evidence had raised numerous problems with the respondent Department’s program for students with disabilities, such as how it assesses the needs of individual students, funding allocations and the training teachers receive. She urged the respondent to review these matters but did not order it to, even though the evidence highlighted systemic problems.[52] Therefore, the last two cases suggest that even when the evidence reveals systemic problems, the tribunal will not order the respondent to do something to address it; it prefers to make a suggestion that the respondent can then consider. It is for this reason that the approach suggested in Part IV does not leave the tribunal with any discretion in relation to systemic remedies.

2 Representatives’ Perspectives

Twenty-four solicitors, barristers and non-legal advocates (referred to collectively as ‘representatives’) who practice in discrimination law in Victoria were interviewed. A mix of those who predominantly represent complainants and respondents participated.[53] Interviews were conducted as part of a larger study on the effectiveness of anti-discrimination laws,[54] so data was collected about the full spectrum of the complaint resolution process in Victoria.[55] The VEOHRC participated as an industry partner of the larger study. Its participation included identifying solicitors and non-legal advocates who regularly represent parties at the VEOHRC and inviting them to participate in the interviews. Two of those solicitors and a barrister identified barristers who regularly represent parties in discrimination matters and therefore had professional experience relevant to the study. The data reported in this article is confined to questions pertaining to remedies. Its purpose is to provide another perspective about how remedies are awarded by VCAT and to illuminate some of the problems with the Tribunal’s approach.

Some representatives credited VCAT with wide powers to remedy discrimination. One described its powers as ‘unfettered’. They said that the problem was that VCAT does not use its powers. According to most representatives, VCAT predominantly orders compensation. A solicitor who had practiced in anti-discrimination law in Victoria for 20 years did not recall an order for training. A complainant barrister recalled a couple of orders which included an apology. Other representatives concurred that while VCAT is empowered to make creative orders, such as for reinstatement, it does not do so, nor does it order the respondent to remedy the situation.

In regard to the amount of compensation ordered, various representatives described awards as ‘very miserable’, ‘a sick joke’, ‘chicken feed’ and, from the respondent’s perspective, compensation was described as ‘ignorable’. It was one representative’s opinion that if respondents thought that acting discriminatorily was going to hurt their business and affect their bottom line, then relying on financial compensation to remedy discrimination may be effective, but at present the awards are low enough to fall within the respondent’s risk management budget. In other instances, the fear of a compensation award does not deter the respondent from litigating. For example, a complainant barrister recalled that in a case where a state government department spent more than $1 million defending a complaint, the compensation order made against the department was for $20,000, which did not cover the complainant’s legal fees.

Most significantly, VCAT’s compensation awards were described as being ‘out of step’ with what complainants can negotiate at settlement.[56] A complainant barrister had recently settled three complaints for amounts on par with the award in McKenna’s case. In that case the compensation award was $125,000, which remains a high watermark for compensation in this jurisdiction.[57] As the above analysis shows, there were no equivalent compensation orders in 2006 – 2008. Therefore, complainants who proceed to hearing run the risk that the tribunal may award them less in compensation than they could have negotiated earlier but if they are unsuccessful, they will have accrued legal fees and may also be subject to a costs order. The relationship of low compensation awards and costs is worth examining in detail.

3 Compensation Awards and Costs

The intention in the anti-discrimination jurisdiction is that each side bears their own costs,[58] thereby encouraging complainants to litigate complaints without the risk of paying the respondent’s costs if they are unsuccessful.[59] The costs orders made by VCAT in those 24 complaints which reached a substantive hearing in 2006 – 2008 are illustrated in Figure 2.


Figure 2: VCAT Costs Orders: 2006 – 2008

In the eight successful discrimination cases discussed above, the complainant was awarded costs in only one case and that was due to the public service he had undertaken in bringing a discriminatory membership rule of the Melbourne Cricket Club to the court’s attention.[60] Costs were reserved in four cases and at the time of writing, there was no published decision about whether they were ordered.[61] There was no order in relation to costs in the remaining three cases. However, in the 16 unsuccessful cases, costs were reserved in half of them and in two cases, the complainant was ordered to pay the respondent’s costs.[62] Overall, this does not suggest that VCAT is ordering costs to either party as a matter of course, but that creates another problem for the complainant: the only way they can recoup their legal expenses is through their compensation award.

A complainant barrister said that for those who are successful at hearing, their compensation awards dissolve in legal fees because VCAT is unwilling to award costs against the respondent. Another barrister provided an example of a complainant who was awarded $2,500 in compensation and $3,500 for costs because the respondent had unnecessarily prolonged the trial. The barrister said that since they received both amounts, the complainant ‘broke even’ because they then had enough money to cover their legal fees. A union advocate recalled representing a union member who had to settle their complaint for $3,000 compensation because the union could not finance their members to take complaints to hearing, regardless of the complaint’s merits. In this example, the union estimated that it would cost the complainant between $15,000 and $20,000 in legal fees to take it further. The advocate advised the complainant that it was too risky for them to spend that amount of money with the possibility of ending up in debt at the conclusion of the hearing. A complainant barrister recalled instances of clients who had mortgaged their home or borrowed money to fund their case. The complainant’s difficulty in recouping costs also affects the amount of pro bono work members of the legal profession do. Two complainant barristers said that they find it difficult to do as much pro bono work as they would like to on meritorious complaints; although they can do some work pro bono, they also need to be paid for some and they are unlikely to recoup their costs through the complainant’s compensation award.

B Comparison of Remedies Ordered in Victoria, Queensland and Federally

This section compares the cases heard in Victoria in 2007 with those heard in Queensland and federally. Queensland was chosen for comparison because it has a similar population to Victoria[63] and in 2007 it still had a specialist tribunal for hearing discrimination complaints.[64] Furthermore, the ADAQ contains extensive, unrestricted remedies,[65] so it is useful to consider whether these variables had an effect.[66]

There were 32 substantive hearings in the tribunals in Victoria and Queensland and the Federal Magistrates Court and Federal Court in 2007.[67] Discrimination was proven in only five of those cases. In each, the court ordered compensation, although the legislation in each jurisdiction permits the court to make other orders. Figure 3 presents the compensation orders. Those cases in the numerical order they appear below are: Duma v Mader International Pty Ltd;[68] King v Nike Australia Pty Ltd;[69] M v A and U;[70] Forest v Queensland Health;[71] and Rawcliffe v Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service.[72]

Figure 3: Compensation Orders in 2007


The average compensation award was $11,297.40, the median was $9,000. Both the highest and lowest compensation orders were made by VCAT. Costs were awarded in two decisions, M v A and U and Forest v Queensland Health. In 2008, the respondent successfully appealed the latter decision and the complainant was ordered to pay costs.[73] This reveals a similar pattern to the Victorian experience: there were few successful discrimination complaints during 2007 in the three jurisdictions and they were all remedied with compensation. However, compensation awards were at much lower amounts than in comparison to Victoria and the complainant was awarded costs in fewer than half of the complaints.

Systemic remedies were not ordered in any of these cases; compensation was the only remedy ordered. In two cases, the complainant sought an apology but in both, it was not granted.[74] It is necessary to consider whether the court could have ordered a wider remedy in the circumstances. Duma v Mader International Pty Ltd and King v Nike Australia Pty Ltd were considered above. It is not possible to ascertain whether two of the remaining three cases were isolated instances of discrimination or symptomatic of systemic problems. In M v A and U, the complainant was refused service and ridiculed by the proprietor and an employee of a grocery store on the basis of sex and lawful sexual activity. In Rawcliffe v Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service, the complainant was subject to discrimination in employment on the basis of impairment, including the failure to accommodate his medical condition in rostering his work hours. In both instances, the court could have ordered equal opportunity training and education to curb the likelihood of future customers or employees of either respondent being subject to such conduct.

In Forest v Queensland Health, Collier J found that the respondent had acted unlawfully by failing to allow the complainant’s assistance animal to accompany him into two hospitals which the respondent operated. Justice Collier noted two systemic problems. First, one of the hospitals did not have appropriate procedures in place to identify whether animals are being used for assistance and should be allowed onto the premises.[75] Second, the respondent did not provide adequate guidance for staff in one of its hospitals about anti-discrimination laws.[76] However, Collier J did not order the respondent either to review its procedures or to train its staff in their legal responsibilities, as would have been appropriate in the circumstances.


A Low Compensation Awards

Commentators note that compensation awards in discrimination complaints in Australia tend to be low,[77] particularly in comparison to awards in sexual harassment complaints, or compensation is non-existent.[78] This is illustrated in Table 1, which contains the median and average compensation awards made in discrimination complaints under the four Commonwealth anti-discrimination statutes[79] and in sexual harassment complaints[80] from April 2000 to August 2009.[81]

Table 1: Commonwealth Compensation Awards

Sexual Harassment
$ 8,000.00

The compensation awards in Table 1 are not substantially different than those in Figure 3, particularly the median amount, which suggests that compensation awards are consistent across these jurisdictions and over different timeframes. What is noteworthy about Table 1 is that the median and average sexual harassment awards are much higher than the median and average compensation awards in a discrimination complaint. The exception is the sample of RDA complaints, which is somewhat inflated because it includes six compensation awards for discriminatory wage payments.[84]

The samples of compensation awards from various jurisdictions over different timeframes suggest that compensation is awarded at low amounts and that awards in discrimination cases are less than sexual harassment cases. One reason is that in a discrimination complaint, compensation is intended to be compensatory, not punitive.[85] However, based on the case analysis above, at present awards cannot be considered compensatory if the complainant cannot cover their legal fees, let alone redress the harm that they have suffered. Another reason is that courts have determined that compensation is assessed on tort principles,[86] although the legislation does not contain such guidance. Thus, compensation is intended to put the complainant in the situation they would have been in but for the act of unlawful discrimination,[87] not to punish the respondent.[88] Part of the explanation for low compensations awards in this jurisdiction may be that the cases that reach the courts are not cases that are likely to receive high awards. Without comparing the facts and evidence of settled complaints with decided cases, it is not possible to determine this.

Two conclusions can be drawn, however. First, as described above, low compensation awards may encourage the complainant to settle earlier to prevent their compensation award from dissipating in legal fees, particularly as complainants are not regularly awarded costs. Second, compensation awards of modest amounts do little to deter potential respondents. One Victorian representative referred to companies that set aside funds in their risk management budget to ensure that they can cover discrimination complaints. It is acknowledged that this is part of prudent risk management practices, but it also suggests that the companies know that they can afford to cover a discrimination complaint if one is made. This indicates that the cost of doing something about the situation versus the risk of having to pay a few thousand dollars in compensation means that there is no incentive for companies to ensure that they are compliant with the legislation: they can treat the symptoms and ignore the root cause.

B Compensation is not a Systemic Remedy

The data presented in this article suggests that Australian courts have relinquished their ability to address other instances of discrimination by remedying the few successful complaints before them with compensation. This includes those jurisdictions that include wider remedies in their legislation which could affect similar conduct or deter would-be discriminators. Clearly, the law must ensure that the complainant receives a remedy for the behaviour they were subjected to. In some instances, compensation may be appropriate. For example, reinstatement will not always be suitable in an employment discrimination complaint or it may not be possible due to the time that has elapsed once the case is heard. In that instance, compensation for lost earnings is appropriate. However, there are complaints which lend themselves to a change in policy or practice, such as a disability access complaint. In that situation, compensation does not solve the central problem; it requires an actual change to access. This illustrates the primary problem with compensation: the payment of money does not address other instances of discrimination in society or achieve systemic change. Compensation is reactive. It does not encourage compliance because the respondent is not required to take anticipatory action to prevent another complaint. Nor is the respondent required to take any action to address the circumstances of similarly situated individuals. Once they have paid compensation, the respondent has fulfilled their obligation.

C Systemic Remedies

The examination of the Victorian experience and the comparison with remedies ordered in Queensland and federally suggests that courts are not regularly ordering systemic remedies. In order to make a more precise assessment, it is necessary to consider the incidence of systemic orders in other jurisdictions and over a longer timeframe. This section considers whether Australian courts order an apology, which elevates the respondent’s behaviour out of the private sphere, or wider, systemic orders, which would affect similarly situated people, such as changes to policies and practice or access to services.[89]

In two of the cases presented in Figure 3, the complainant sought an apology which was not granted. One case was heard by VCAT, the other was a federal case.[90] Neither jurisdiction has a specific power to order an apology, although the Federal Court has ordered them on other occasions[91] and VCAT ordered an apology in a vilification complaint.[92] In some jurisdictions, the court has a specific power to order an apology[93] but it is also difficult to obtain one in those jurisdictions. The Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commissioner has not ordered an apology. An apology has been ordered in a discrimination complaint once in New South Wales[94] and on two occasions in Queensland.[95] An examination of the decided cases shows that tribunals are more likely to order an apology in a vilification complaint[96] or a sexual harassment complaint.[97] The cases suggest that courts are reluctant to order the respondent to do something that they have not done voluntarily. In O’Neill v Steiler, the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Tribunal declined to order an apology and said that ‘an apology not meant… would not be an apology at all’.[98] Similarly, the Federal Court has said that a court ordered apology serves little purpose.[99]

Australian courts appear to be reluctant to make wider orders which would affect people other than the parties. Although the Federal Court has said that the orders specified in s 46PO(4) of the AHRC Act are not exhaustive and that it has the power to make other orders,[100] since 2000, there are few examples of the Court ordering remedies other than compensation.[101] The Federal Court ordered a club to permit a complainant to access its premises with his dog, an assistance animal, unleashed;[102] reinstatement and a variation in work hours to allow a complainant to collect her child from school;[103] and a complainant to proceed to the second stage of the respondent’s employment application process.[104] In a race discrimination complaint, the Court declined to order the respondent to make a donation to the Aboriginal Advancement Council and said the relief granted should be proportionate to the reasonably likely consequences of the unlawful act.[105] There is one example of the Federal Court ordering a wider remedy which affects other similarly situated individuals. The court ordered a council to construct wash basins that were out of public view in a toilet facility after it found that providing wash basins outside the toilet facility indirectly discriminated against persons with disabilities.[106]

In Bonella & Ors v Wollongong City Council, the New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal declined to order the respondent to change its policies because, it said, such an order would have significant consequences for numerous people and its extent may be unclear. Instead, the Tribunal said ‘the respondent should be given an opportunity to consider the impact of this decision and to set about devising and implementing a non-discrimination policy.’[107]

Similarly, in Towie v State of Victoria, the complainant lodged a disability discrimination complaint after the state failed to accommodate his hearing impairment, meaning he was unable to participate in another case in the Magistrates Court.[108] Although VCAT dismissed the complaint for reasons unrelated to this discussion,[109] Deputy President McKenzie noted that the decision illustrates the limitations of the EOAV because the complainant sought a policy change, namely greater access to justice for disabled persons, rather than a remedy.[110] Implicit in her decision was that Deputy President McKenzie did not regard the EOAV as the appropriate vehicle for achieving a wider outcome. Instead, she urged the government to consider implementing appropriate policies to achieve greater access to justice.[111]

However, if equality of opportunity is taken at its broadest, then the law’s objective is social change. It follows that implementing structural change, such as Mr Towie sought, is the precise purpose of anti-discrimination law. While some commentators are doubtful about whether the law can actually change social structures,[112] in the past, courts were more willing to try. Notable examples of systemic orders made in Australia were discussed in Part II. The South African courts offer recent examples, as discussed in Part V, including an order against three government departments requiring them to make all courts accessible to people with a disability.[113] It seems that recently, Australian courts have shied away from remedying unlawful conduct in a systemic way and by doing so, the law is prevented from achieving its stated goal.

Having determined that remedying discrimination with compensation poses the aforementioned problems for eradicating discrimination in society, the remainder of the article presents an alternative approach — requiring courts to make a systemic order in addition to remedying the individual complainant’s experience.

D Introducing a Systemic Approach in Australia

The complainant’s primary concern, quite rightly, will be to remedy their own experience. They should not be expected to carry the burden of attempting to eradicate discrimination. That is the role of other institutions. It is for the court to make wide orders and for the equality commission to educate the community.[114] As this article is concerned with the role of courts in remedying discrimination, it does not consider the role other institutions play in this process.

To tackle discrimination effectively, the law needs to look beyond the individual parties to a discrimination complaint. This article proposes to modify Australian anti-discrimination laws in the following ways to achieve this: requiring the court to make an order which is aimed at addressing the wider issue of discrimination in addition to addressing the complainant’s experience; including broad remedies in the legislation that extend beyond the individual parties and target other instances of discrimination; and, so that the court does not consider itself restricted by the orders specified in the legislation, including a ‘catch-all’ power so that the court can make any other order it deems appropriate to the circumstances of the complaint.

Part V presents the principles of interpretation and the extensive remedies contained in South Africa’s anti-discrimination legislation to illustrate this type of approach. This discussion does not attempt to conduct a comparative analysis of anti-discrimination law in South Africa. Rather, the remedies provision is presented to show how the problems identified in this article could be addressed by introducing a mechanism from a modern anti-discrimination statute. Examples drawn from cases and academic writing are supplemented by interviews conducted with South African scholars and staff at the South African Human Rights Commission.

It is acknowledged that imposing a positive requirement on courts to impose a wider order that will tackle the cause of discrimination is a radical approach but if the law is to effectively address discrimination and promote equality of opportunity, as was intended, such an approach is necessary. As the discussion in Part III established, even courts in those jurisdictions which have the power to make wider orders are not doing so; discrimination is predominantly remedied with compensation. Of the possible explanations for this, a likely one is the law’s restrictive conceptual understanding of discrimination. As examined in Part I, the law is structured around the individual and a singular act. The law assumes that discrimination is a single act perpetrated against an individual victim and that it is an unconscious, isolated event. It does not acknowledge that discrimination is a manifestation of entrenched behaviour. Therefore, discrimination is remedied by attending to the individual manifestation, not the root cause. Imposing a positive obligation would ensure that courts consider the wider ramifications and systemic aspects of the case. Whether they choose a minimal approach that still meets this obligation will be up to the individual judge to decide. Others may choose to take advantage of the new remedies at their disposal and make systemic orders. Courts in South Africa have chosen the latter approach, as this section examines. Similarly, the purpose of including a ‘catch-all’ power is so that the court does not consider itself restricted by the remedies specified in the legislation. The court can either order a remedy stipulated in the legislation or devise a remedy to suit the circumstances of the case. The legislation’s interpretive provisions, as described below, will guide the court in devising an appropriate remedy.


It is trite to say that the post-apartheid government in South Africa was committed to equality, but it was because of this commitment that it introduced a range of legal measures which situate equality at the heart of the new democracy. For example, ‘equality’ is the first right protected in the South African Constitution[115] and the Constitution prohibits discrimination by the state and private persons on a range of listed grounds.[116] South African anti-discrimination law benefited from the experience of other countries. Legislative drafters consciously tried to avoid some of the problems that have plagued other countries in relation to the burden of proof and defining discrimination[117] and provided courts with an extensive range of remedies, as described below. Discrimination complaints are dealt with according to whether or not they relate to employment. This article is concerned with the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (‘PEPUDA’),[118] which regulates non-employment related discrimination on a range of grounds.[119] The South African Human Rights Commission (‘SAHRC’) handles complaints made under PEPUDA or complaints can be litigated in the Equality Courts,[120] which is a less formal setting than a traditional civil court.[121]

A Interpretive Principles

Not only does PEPUDA contain extensive remedies, it also contains interpretive provisions which clearly state that remedies are not only referable to the parties; they are to be used to eradicate discrimination and promote equality. PEPUDA includes guiding principles which are to be applied in adjudication. The most relevant principle to this discussion is that the court must use ‘corrective or restorative measures in conjunction with measures of a deterrent nature’.[122] This is strengthened by the requirement that ‘[t]he existence of systemic discrimination and inequalities’ and ‘the need to take measures at all levels to eliminate such discrimination and inequalities’ are to be taken into account when applying the Act.[123] The extensive remedies in PEPUDA were included to overcome the limitations other countries have experienced in ordering appropriate remedies in discrimination matters.[124] Staff at the SAHRC said that they see the goal of PEPUDA as harmonising the community and changing attitudes, not penalising people.[125] This is supported by the Act’s objectives which include ‘the promotion of equality’ and to provide measures to ‘facilitate the eradication of unfair discrimination’ and ‘educate the public and raise public awareness on the importance of promoting equality and overcoming unfair discrimination’.[126]

B Available Remedies

The broad remedies provided in PEPUDA are worth stating in full to show the imaginative remedies introduced in a recent piece of anti-discrimination legislation. An Equality Court can make an appropriate order:

• for the payment of damages to an appropriate organisation;

• to restrain the unfair discrimination;

• to make available specific opportunities and privileges unfairly denied to the complainant;

• for special measures;

• for the reasonable accommodation of a group or class;

• that an unconditional apology is made;

• that the respondent undergoes an audit of specific policies or practices;

• of a deterrent nature;

• to require the respondent to make regular process reports to the court regarding the implementation of the court’s order.[127]

In the case of a persistent contravention or an instance of systemic discrimination, the court may refer the respondent to another institution, such as the SAHRC, for further investigation.[128] The court is not limited by this list.[129] It can also order injunctive relief[130] and an interdict,[131] which is a form of injunction.

C Examples of Remedies Ordered in South Africa

Professor Cathi Albertyn conducted some of the judicial training sessions on PEPUDA. She recalled that initially members of the judiciary were unsure about some of the remedies, particularly paying damages to an appropriate organisation and of the idea of ordering someone to apologise.[132] Two early cases helped to establish that systemic orders are part of the process of remedying discrimination. In a case that received much media attention,[133] the Chair of the SAHRC, Jody Kollapen, personally lodged a complaint at an Equality Court after the Commission received a complaint about a barber in Pretoria refusing to cut non-‘white’ hair. When Kollapen, who is of Indian heritage, visited the barber, he was also refused a haircut, hence his complaint.[134] Kollapen’s complaint was successful and the Equality Court order included a public apology, that the respondent cease the discriminatory practice, training and payment to a charity of Kollapen’s choice.[135] Professor Albertyn said that partly due to the publicity the case received, such broad orders were accepted as part of the terms of settlement of discrimination matters and have not been in dispute.[136]

The second case is the first discrimination complaint heard by an Equality Court. Pillay, a ‘coloured’[137] male, was turned away from a bar, supposedly for being inappropriately dressed, while his ‘white’ partner was allowed in, although both were dressed comparably to the other patrons.[138] They lodged a complaint of race discrimination and were represented by the SAHRC.[139] The matter was settled and the settlement was ratified as an order of the Equality Court.[140] The order included the redrafting of the club’s policies, an apology, and payment to a charity,[141] all of which are provided in s 21(2) of PEPUDA.

Broad remedies continue to be ordered by South African courts, including by the country’s highest court. In the first case appealed from an Equality Court to the Constitutional Court, the Constitutional Court ordered a school to amend its dress code to reasonably accommodate the complainant’s cultural practices after it found the school had unfairly discriminated against her.[142]

EPUDA also contains systemic remedies — audits, special measures and interdicts — and empowers the court to order a respondent to report back to the court on their progress in implementing systemic remedies.[143] Systemic remedies have not been used extensively in discrimination complaints to date[144] although the SAHRC has obtained systemic orders in discrimination complaints it has litigated. For example, the SAHRC obtained an order against three government departments that they make all courts accessible to people with a disability within five years and that the departments provide the court and the SAHRC with six monthly progress reports.[145] The Constitutional Court has made systemic orders in other matters,[146] including in complaints relating to socio-economic rights,[147] so this jurisprudence may influence equality matters.

The discussion of remedies in South African anti-discrimination law shows that another legislature has been willing to make broad remedies available to courts in discrimination complaints. Moreover, courts are willing to make those orders. In fact, such orders have become an accepted part of remedying discrimination, including by the country’s highest court. Australian law would be strengthened if it contained such orders, along with interpretive provisions about their use and purpose to guide their application.


Australian courts primarily remedy discrimination with compensation, even when extensive remedies are available to them. An analysis of the remedies ordered in successful discrimination complaints in Victoria, Queensland and federally revealed that if a complainant successfully proves discrimination, compensation is likely to be the only remedy ordered. Compensation awards are comparatively low and may not even cover the complainant’s legal fees. This article argued that that the courts’ preference for compensation means that nothing is being done to address other instances of discrimination because the respondent is not required to take any action to address wider problems. It proposed that courts should be required to make a wider order in addition to remedying the complainant’s experience. The legislation should contain a range of orders, including a ‘catch-all’ power, so that the court can fashion a remedy around the particular circumstances of the case. By doing this, not only will the law remedy the individual complainant’s experience, it will also target other instances of discrimination of which the complainant’s experience is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

This article considered only one part of the complaint resolution process. Courts hear a small proportion of discrimination complaints; the overwhelming majority are settled or withdrawn prior to hearing. In Victoria, representatives report that compensation is also the principal outcome negotiated prior to hearing but at much higher amounts than courts award.[148] To paint a complete picture of how discrimination is remedied in Australia, data needs to be collected from the equality commissions to determine whether the settlement experience differs from the remedies ordered by courts. Particular points of analysis may include whether the likelihood of a much lower compensation award is keeping complainants away from court, the type of outcomes negotiated at settlement and whether systemic remedies are negotiated.

[∗] B Comm (Canberra) LLB(Hons) (ANU) PhD (Melbourne), Institute of Legal Studies, Australian Catholic University. This article draws upon research conducted for the project ‘Improving the Effectiveness of Australia’s Anti-discrimination Laws’, which was funded by the Australian Research Council and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. Thanks to Beth Gaze and Jenny Morgan for valuable comments on an earlier version of this article, the reviewers for their helpful feedback, the interview participants, and Aditi Gorur for transcribing the interviews. Any errors are my own.

[1] The statutory agency is typically identified as a Commission, Authority or Board. For ease of reference, ‘equality commission’ is used throughout.

[2] ‘Tribunal’ and ‘court’ are used interchangeably except in reference to a specific court or jurisdiction.

[3] See further William L F Felstiner, Richard L Abel and Austin Sarat ‘The Emergence and Transformation of Disputes: Naming, Blaming, Claiming’ (1980-1981) 15 Law & Society Review 631.

[4] See further Part II.

[5] Sexual harassment and vilification complaints have not been as difficult to enforce. They are considered herein only to illustrate that courts have taken a different approach to remedying these complaints.

[6] For this discussion, see Dominique Allen, ‘Behind the Conciliation Doors Settling Discrimination Complaints in Victoria’ (2009) 18(3) Griffith Law Review 776, 788.

[7] See eg Purvis v New South Wales [2003] HCA 62; [2003] 217 CLR 92. This is discussed further in Part II.

[8] This is an objective of the law in the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Victoria, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

[9] For example, in Victoria discrimination is prohibited on a range of attributes, including race, sex, age, impairment, marital status and religious belief in a range of areas, such as employment, education and the provision of goods and services: see Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (Vic) (‘EOAV’) s 6 and Part 3.

[10] The alternative is substantive equality, which requires equalising the starting point or the outcome.

[11] On the various conceptions of equality, see Sandra Fredman, Discrimination Law (Oxford University Press, 2002) Chapter 1.

[12] There are many reasons for this but it is outside the scope of this article to consider them. See further Allen, above n6, 777-780.

[13] Margaret Thornton, ‘Revisiting Race’ in Racial Discrimination Act 1975: A Review (Australian Government Publishing Service, 1995) 81, 84.

[14] Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) s 127(b)(i) (‘EOAWA’) caps the maximum award at $40,000, so does the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) s 108 (‘ADANSW’). The latter has remained the same since 1982 when it was increased to keep it in line with the District Court limit: New South Wales Law Reform Commission, Review of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, Report No. 92 (1999), 10.21. In its recent review of the state’s legislation, the Western Australia Equal Opportunity Commission recommended that the government remove the limit in the EOAWA: Western Australia Equal Opportunity Commission, Review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (2007), 54.

[15] ADANSW s 108(2)(f); Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) s 209(1)(h) (‘ADAQ’); Anti-Discrimination Act (NT) s 88(1)(d) (‘ADANT’); EOAWA, s 127(b)(iv); Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) s 89(1)(f) (‘ADAT’).

[16] Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) s 46PO(4)(c) (‘AHRC Act’); ADANT, s 88(2)(a); ADAT, s 89(1)(c).

[17] ADAT, s 89(1)(e).

[18] ADANSW, s 108(2)(d); ADAQ, s 209(1)(d), (e); ADANT, s 89.

[19] ADAQ, s 209(1)(f).

[20] AHRC Act, s 46PO(4); ADAT, s 89(1)(h).

[21] Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT) s 102(2)(b)(iii) (‘DAACT’); EOAWA, s 127(b)(i).

[22] EOAWA, s 127(b)(iii); ADANSW, s 108(2)(c). Unfortunately, in its recent review of Western Australia’s legislation, the Equal Opportunity Commission did not suggest amending this: above n14.

[23] Waters v Public Transport Corporation (1990) EOC 92-294. The order was made pursuant to s 46 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (Vic) which is similar to EOAV, s 136(a)(i).

[24] Wardley v Ansett Transport Industries (Operations) Pty Ltd (1984) EOC 92-002.

[25] Waters v Public Transport Corporation [1991] HCA 49; (1991) 173 CLR 349; Ansett Transport Industries (Operations) Pty Ltd v Wardley [1980] HCA 8; (1980) 142 CLR 237.

[26] Sinnapan v Victoria (1994) EOC [92-567].

[27] Victoria v Sinnapan (No 2) [1995] VicRp 52; [1995] 2 VR 242.

[28] EOAV, s 136(a). VCAT can also find the complaint proven but decline to take any further action: s 136(b).

[29] Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 (Vic) ss 123-124 (‘VCAT Act’).

[30] See below Figure 1.

[31] [2006] VCAT 299.

[32] [2006] VCAT 1050.

[33] [2006] VCAT 2145.

[34] [2007] VCAT 70.

[35] [2007] VCAT 2288.

[36] [2008] VCAT 161.

[37] State of Victoria v Turner [2009] VSC 66.

[38] Duma v Mader International Pty Ltd [2007] VCAT 2288.

[39] Deckert v Victorian Institute of Dryland Agriculture [2006] VCAT 299.

[40] Brunsch v Venture Mould and Engineering Australia Pty Ltd [2008] VCAT 920.

[41] Mangan v Melbourne Cricket Club [2006] VCAT 73.

[42] Morgan v Dancen Enterprises Pty Ltd [2006] VCAT 2145.

[43] Turner v State of Victoria [2008] VCAT 161.

[44] King v Nike Australia Pty Ltd [2007] VCAT 70.

[45] Deckert v Victorian Institute of Dryland Agriculture [2006] VCAT 299; Duma v Mader International Pty Ltd [2007] VCAT 2288.

[46] Duma v Mader International Pty Ltd [2007] VCAT 2288, [93].

[47] Deckert v Department of Primary Industry [2005] VCAT 2138, [7].

[48] The current complaint handling system makes it impossible to ascertain whether a respondent is a repeat offender because complaints resolved prior to hearing are confidential and the terms of settlement may be couched in such a way that the respondent does not admit liability. It is not suggested that either of these respondents are repeat offenders but it is noted that studies have found that repeat offenders are common. For example, Hunter and Leonard found that some respondents were repeatedly involved in the complaints process: Rosemary Hunter and Alice Leonard, ‘The Outcomes of Conciliation in Sex Discrimination Cases’ (Working Paper No 8, Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law, University of Melbourne, 1995) 5-6. Furthermore, a complainant solicitor and a complainant barrister that the author interviewed had run cases against the same respondents. Some were state government departments.

[49] King v Nike Australia Pty Ltd [2007] VCAT 70, [142].

[50] Ibid [151].

[51] [2006] VCAT 187.

[52] Beasley v Department of Education and Training [2006] VCAT 187, [182]–[187].

[53] Eleven regularly represented complainants, 10 regularly represented respondents and three barristers represented both parties.

[54] ARC Linkage Project Grant (no. LP0455754) on ‘Improving the Effectiveness of Australia’s Anti-Discrimination Laws’.

[55] See also data reported in Allen, above n6.

[56] Thornton found the same occurring in NSW two decades ago: although court ordered compensation was capped at $40,000, complainants had obtained $50,000 or more at conciliation: Margaret Thornton, ‘Equivocations of Conciliation: The Resolution of Discrimination Complaints in Australia’ (1989) 52 Modern Law Review 733, 741.

[57] In State of Victoria v McKenna [1999] VSC 310 the complainant was awarded $125,000 which was not overturned by the Supreme Court. That barrister noted that it ‘stands alone as a reasonably high award’. It should be noted that in McKenna, sexual harassment was found as well as sex discrimination. Sexual harassment complaints typically receive higher compensation awards than discrimination complaints.

[58] See eg VCAT Act, s 109 and Turner v State of Victoria [2008] VCAT 161.

[59] This approach is common to the States and Territories and the federal system. However, federally if the complaint does not resolve at conciliation there is a costs jeopardy. The Federal Magistrates Act 1999 (Cth), s 79 gives the court the discretion to award costs in discrimination proceedings. Complainant representatives cited this as one of the disadvantages of the federal system.

[60] Mangan v Melbourne Cricket Club [2006] VCAT 73, [60]. The rule was introduced to address an historic wrong of there being less female members of the club but President Morris found that once the situation was remedied, the rule was discriminatory: Mangan v Melbourne Cricket Club [2006] VCAT 792.

[61] The exception is the Turner matter, which was successfully appealed, although leave to appeal was granted on the condition that the State paid the complainant’s reasonable costs of the appeal: State of Victoria v Turner [2009] VSC 66.

[62] Mihelcic v Toll Tasmania [2007] VCAT 1312; Omerspahic v Fermax Pty Ltd [2008] VCAT 1937.

[63] In December 2007, the populations of Victoria and Queensland were 5,246,100 and 4,228,300 respectively: <> at 17 September 2008.

[64] Namely, the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. The Tribunal was amalgamated into the new Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which commenced operation on 1 December 2009.

[65] ADAQ, s 209. Cf DAACT, s102; ADANSW, s 108; EOAWA, s 127 which restrict the remedies available to representative complaints and, in regard to the latter two, cap the compensation available.

[66] New South Wales is also comparable to Victoria, but the AHRC’s only office is in Sydney, which most probably affects the number of complaints made under the State scheme.

[67] Decisions were sourced from Austlii, LexisNexis and the individual courts’ websites.

[68] Duma v Mader International Pty Ltd [2007] VCAT 2288.

[69] King v Nike Australia Pty Ltd [2007] VCAT 70.

[70] [No 2] [2007] QADT 8.

[71] [2007] FCA 1236.

[72] [2007] FMCA 931.

[73] The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) v Che Forest [2008] FCAFC 96.

[74] King v Nike Australia Pty Ltd, [2007] VCAT 70; Forest v Queensland Health [2007] FCA 1236.

[75] Forest v Queensland Health [2007] FCA 936, [163].

[76] Ibid, [19].

[77] See eg New South Wales Law Reform Commission, Review of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, Report No. 92 (1999), n 30. Ronalds states that very few claims for economic loss, such as for a period of unemployment related to unlawful discrimination, have resulted in awards of more than $50,000, while claims for non-economic loss, such as for injury to feelings, are usually amounts of between $8,000-$20,000: Chris Ronalds, Discrimination Law and Practice (2008), 222-223. For a relatively recent list of awards see ibid 224-225.

[78] Gaze reports that in the years 2000 – 2005 the federal courts awarded damages in only one complaint of racial discrimination (Carr v Boree Aboriginal Corp [2003] FMCA 408, in which the complainant was non-Indigenous and the respondent was an Indigenous corporation): Beth Gaze, ‘Has the Racial Discrimination Act Contributed to Eliminating Racial Discrimination? Analysing the Litigation Track Record 2000-04’ (2005) 11(1) Australian Journal of Human Rights 171, 186, 189.

[79] Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (‘RDA’); Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (‘SDA’); Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (‘DDA’); Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth) (‘ADA’).

[80] SDA, Division 3.

[81] AHRC, Federal Discrimination Law (2008), 337-369. The Commission regularly publishes online updates. See <> at 21 August 2009.

[82] Figures include the six compensation awards in Baird v Queensland (No 2) [2006] FCAFC 198 which were awarded to compensate for racially discriminatory wage payments made to Aboriginal complainants in 1975 – 1986. The median and average are calculated as though they were six separate awards, rather than as the total award. Without including these awards, the RDA figures are similar to the SDA and DDA: the average is $20,159.75 and the median is $12,250.
[83] At the time of writing, compensation had not been ordered in an ADA complaint.

[84] See Baird v Queensland (No 2) [2006] FCAFC 198.

[85] In Clarke v Catholic Education Office [2003] FCA 1085; (2003) 202 ALR 340, 360 Madgwick J said ‘[d]amages are compensatory and no more’.

[86] Hall v A & A Sheiban Pty Ltd [1989] FCA 72; (1989) 20 FCR 217.

[87] Haines v Bendall [1991] HCA 15; (1991) 172 CLR 60, 63.

[88] Commonwealth v Evans [2004] FCA 654; (2004) 81 ALD 402, [80]. Tasmania is the exception. The Tribunal can order the respondent to pay ‘a specified fine not exceeding 20 penalty units’: ADAT, s 89(1)(e).

[89] This discussion is only concerned with whether courts are willing to order such remedies. It is acknowledged that parties may voluntarily agree to wider remedies if complaint is settled prior to hearing. Training, a reference and an apology are the most common outcome sought: see Allen, above n6, from 788. See also ADAT, s 104 which provides that respondents are obliged to ensure that its members, officers, employees and agents are aware of the legislation and take reasonable steps to ensure that they do not engage in discrimination.

[90] King v Nike Australia Pty Ltd, [2007] VCAT 70; Forest v Queensland Health [2007] FCA 1236.

[91] Forbes v Commonwealth of Australia [2003] FMCA 140; Escobar v Rainbow Printing Pty Ltd (No 2) [2002] FMCA 122; Oberoi v Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission [2001] FMCA 34; Cooke v Plauen Holdings Pty Ltd [2001] FMCA 91. The then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (now known as the AHRC) also ordered apologies when it was responsible for adjudication: McDonald v Hospital Superannuation Board (1999) EOC 93-025; Bull & Anor v Kuch & Anor (1993) EOC 92-518.

[92] Islamic Council of Victoria v Catch the Fire Ministries Inc [2004] VCAT 2510.

[93] ADAQ, s 209(1); ADANT, s 89; ADANSW, s 108(2)(d).

[94] Halliwell v Stephens & Bradley t/as Sirens Nightclub (1998) EOC 92-914.

[95] Bellamy v McTavish & Pine Rivers Shire Council [2003] QADT 15; Bishop v Gedge & Rudd [2008] QADT 17.

[96] See eg Islamic Council of Victoria v Catch the Fire Ministries Inc [2004] VCAT 2510; Jones v Scully [2002] FCA 1080; (2002) 120 FCR 243; Menzies & Ors v Owen [2008] QADT 20; Wilson & McCollum v Lawson & Anor [2008] QADT 27.

[97] See eg Zheng v Beamish [2004] FMCA 61; Styles v Murray Meats Pty Ltd [2005] VCAT 914.

[98] O’Neill v Steiler [1994] QADT 2. See also Lynton v Maugeri and Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission [1995] QADT 3; Sailor v Village Taxi Cabs Pty Ltd and Markwick [2004] QADT 15.

[99] See Forest v Queensland Health, [2007] FCA 1236; Travers v New South Wales [2001] FMCA 18; (2001) 163 FLR 99; Evans v National Crime Authority [2003] FMCA 375; Gama v Qantas Airways Ltd (No.2) [2006] FMCA 1767, [132]. This was also the view of Hely J in a vilification complaint. In Jones v Scully, Hely J said ‘prima facie, the idea of ordering someone to make an apology is a contradiction in terms’: above n96, 308. In Grulke v KC Canvas Pty Ltd [2000] FCA 1415, Ryan J said it was inappropriate to order apology as the respondent was a corporation, not natural person.

[100] McGlade v Lightfoot [2002] FCA 1457; (2002) 124 FCR 106, [80]. The court has the power to make ‘such orders… as it thinks fit’: AHRC Act, s 46PO(4).

[101] See further AHRC, above n81, 372-376.

[102] Sheehan v Tin Can Bay Country Club [2002] FMCA 95.

[103] Song v Ainsworth Game Technology Pty Ltd [2002] FMCA 31.

[104] Vickers v The Ambulance Service of NSW [2006] FMCA 1232.

[105] McGlade v Lightfoot, [2002] FCA 1457; (2002) 124 FCR 106, [90].

[106] Access For All Alliance (Hervey Bay) Inc v Hervey Bay City Council [2004] FMCA 915.

[107] [2001] NSW ADT 194, [123]. As discussed in Part V, the South African courts are far more willing to make orders for staff training and audits of policies and procedures.

[108] [2007] VCAT 1489.

[109] Deputy President McKenzie found that court staff were immune from claims under the EOAV: ibid [16].

[110] Ibid [24].

[111] Ibid [33].

[112] See eg Laurence Lustgarten, ‘Racial Inequality and the Limits of the Law’ (1986) 49 The Modern Law Review 68; Derrick A Bell, ‘Racial Realism’ (1992) 24 Connecticut Law Review 363; Roger Cotterrell, The Sociology of Law An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 1992).

[113] See below n 143.

[114] One of the equality commissions’ tasks is education. By doing so, potential respondents will be aware of the orders that made be made against them if they continue to behave discriminatorily. This also informs potential complainants who can see the law ‘in action’. When asked why the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland publishes the outcomes of the complaints it assists complainants to resolve, Mary Kitson explained ‘if we publish outcomes of our cases people know, “oh that happened to me, I should complain”.’ Interview with Mary Kitson, Senior Legal Officer, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (Belfast, 25 September 2007).

[115] Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act No 108 of 1996, s 9.

[116] Ibid, s 9(3), (4). This is now regulated by legislation, as discussed below.

[117] Ockert Dupper, ‘Proving Indirect Discrimination in Employment: A South African View’ (2000) 21 Industrial Law Journal 747, 769; Christoph Garbers, ‘Proof and Evidence of Employment Discrimination under the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998’ (2000) 12 South African Mercantile Law Journal 136; Anton Kok, ‘The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act: Why the Controversy?’ (2001) Journal of South African Law 294.

[118] Act No 4 of 2000.

[119] Employment related complaints are regulated by the Employment Equity Act No 55 of 1998 (South Africa) (‘EEA(SA)’) and litigated in the Labour Courts.

[120] Every High Court is designated as an Equality Court automatically. Magistrates Courts are designated once they have the necessary personnel and resources in place and the courts’ judges and clerks have completed training in equality and diversity: PEPUDA, s 16-17.

[121] See further Philippa Lane, South Africa’s Equality Courts: An Early Assessment, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (2005) <> at 8 March 2007; Narnia Bohler-Muller, ‘The Promise of Equality Courts’ 22(3) South African Journal on Human Rights 380.

[122] PEPUDA, s 4(1)(d).

[123] Ibid, s 4(2).

[124] Sandra Liebenberg and Michelle O’Sullivan, ‘South Africa’s New Equality Legislation A Tool for Advancing Women’s Socio-Economic Equality?’ (2001) Acta Juridica 70, 101.

[125] ‘[T]he intention is for the community to change its perception about each other. I cannot go to the Equality Court to raise funds. I should say, I’m going there so that my fellow South African should learn that this is not the way you treat other people.’ Interview with staff at the South African Human Rights Commission (Johannesburg, 9 October 2007). See also Parliamentary Monitoring Group, Report on Hearings Conducted by the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development on the Occasion of the Review by the Parliament of South Africa on Aspects of Equality in Our Society (2006), 9.2.

[126] PEPUDA, ss 2(b)(ii), (c), (e).

[127] Ibid s 21(2).

[128] Ibid s 21(3).

[129] Note the use of the word ‘including’: ibid s 21(2).

[130] Ibid s 21(2)(a)(b).

[131] Ibid s 21(5).

[132] Interview with Professor Cathi Albertyn, Director, Centre for Applied Legal Studies, University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, 10 October 2007). Ntlama shares the judges’ reservation: ‘What would the order of apology do to somebody who hasn’t shown any remorse for his [sic] actions?’ Nomthandazo Ntlama, ‘The Equality Act: A Tool for Social Change in Promoting Gender Equality’ (Paper presented at the Law Society of the Northern Provinces Conference on The Improvement of the Quality of Life, Status, Justice and Constitutional Development of Women, Pretoria, South

Africa, 1-2 August, 2006) <> at 11 November 2008.

[133] See eg ‘Call to Close “Whites-Only” Barber’, BBC News, 22 October 2003; ‘ “Whites Only” Barber Sued in SA’, BBC News, 20 October 2003. See also SAHRC, ‘SAHRC Chairperson in Barbershop Equality Court Case’ (Media Release, date unknown), available at <> at 26 February 2008.

[134] Prior to the hearing, local journalists covering the story visited the barber and reported the same experience: ibid.

[135] Edwin Naidu, ‘Equality Courts are Crying Out for Work’, The Sunday Independent (South Africa), 10 April 2005, 7.

[136] Albertyn, above n132.

[137] During apartheid, South Africans were classified by race into four broad groups, specifically ‘white’, ‘coloured’, ‘Indian’ and ‘African’. See the Population Registration Act 1959 (South Africa) (repealed 1991). These terms are still used in contemporary legislation. See eg EEA(SA), s 1.

[138] Pillay v De Vos v Silver Club (2004) Cape Town Equality Court, Western Cape.

[139] Lane, above n121, 21.

[140] Pillay v De Vos v Silver Club (2004) Cape Town Equality Court, Western Cape. Ratification of settlements by the court is provided in PEPUDA: s 21(2)(c).

[141] Ibid.

[142] MEC for Education: Kwazulu-Natal and Others v Pillay (CCT 51/06) [2007] ZACC 21.

[143] The Silver Club case was closely followed by Mkhize v Edgemead High School, Blue Downs Equality Court, Western Cape. The order included an unconditional apology, payment to another body, in this case a crèche, an audit of the respondent high school’s policies and practices, and that the respondents attend a diversity and racial sensitisation training program as arranged by the SAHRC. The court ordered the SAHRC to monitor the order’s implementation: Lane, above n 121, 28.

[144] Albertyn, above n132. Similarly, Anton Kok said that he had found most equality cases are direct discrimination complaints by individuals, so damages are usually awarded: Interview with Dr Anton Kok, University of Pretoria (Phone interview, Johannesburg, 12 October 2007).

[145] Reported in SAHRC, Annual Report (2006), 27.

[146] See eg August v Electoral Commission 1999 4 BCLR 363 (CC); Strydom v Minister of Correctional Services 1999 3 BCLR 342 (W).

[147] See eg Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v Grootboom and Others (CCT38/00) [2000] ZACC 14; Minister for Health and Others v Treatment Action Campaign and Others (CCT8/02) [2002] ZACC 15; Head of Department: Mpumalanga Department of Education and Another v Hoërskool Ermelo and Another (CCT40/09) [2009] ZACC 32.

[148] See further Allen, above n6, 784-786.

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