Case Studies

Case Studies


The following case studies are examples of discrimination that young people may experience at school, in the workplace, in getting accommodation for "Schoolies Week", or buying goods such as mobile phones. The case studies are followed by optional further questions to test your understanding of equal opportunity laws and how they apply to each case study.

Age discrimination in a shop

Corey often goes to a games shop with his mates after school. However, the shop recently changed hands and, last time he went, Corey noticed a sign at the door saying ‘No school bags’. As Corey had his bag with him, he didn’t go in, but he was pretty annoyed about this.

Could the sign be discrimination? How?

The sign sets a special requirement for people attending school, that is, those aged 5 to 18 years approximately. If other customers are allowed to bring their bags in, the rule could be discrimination. This depends on whether the rule is unreasonable. Since any type of bag could be used to conceal stolen goods, the rule is probably not reasonable and therefore could be illegal.

What type of discrimination would it be?

This would be age discrimination because the rule is harsher on people in the school age group.

What would be a legally safer alternative for the shop owner, if they are worried about shoplifting?

They could require that everyone open their bags for inspection before leaving the store. This does not treat any particular group harshly so it would not be discrimination. An alternative might be to require that no bags at all are brought into the store, but this could still be legally problematic (for instance, people with caring responsibilities for small children may have to carry bags with them) and would also discourage many customers from entering the store because of concern that their bags could be stolen.

What could Corey do about it?

Corey’s options include:
•    talking or writing to the shop manager to suggest that the sign is unfair.
•    lodging a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission.
•    taking his business to a more student-friendly shop.

Age discrimination in accommodation

Flick and some girlfriends, all aged 18, were just finishing year 12 and wanted to book a holiday unit at Victor Harbor for "Schoolies Week". Flick knew of a unit really close to everything because her parents stayed there earlier in the year. When they rang up the agent, they were told that the unit was free that week, but that they would have to pay a $1,000 security bond. Flick knew that her parents did not have to pay any bond to stay for one week.

Could this be discrimination? How?

If the unit owner does not normally require a bond when letting the unit for one week, then requiring a bond just because the occupants are young people could be discrimination.

What should the unit owner do if worried about damage to the unit?

The unit owner can require the same bond from everyone who stays in the unit. They can also require references from the renters and they do not need to rent to someone who has previously caused damage to a rental property. They can also take out insurance to cover the risk of damage.

What could Flick do?

Options include:
•    Take their business elsewhere.
•    Challenge the agent with the evidence that her parents were not asked for a bond.
•    Complain to the Equal Opportunity Commission.

Caring responsibilities discrimination

Kieran had a part-time job as a handyman with a local aged-care facility. He worked a full day on Saturdays and was on call on Sundays and three week nights. Callouts were rare and the money for being on call made a big difference to him.

A couple of weeks ago, Kieran’s mum was in a car crash and it was going to be some time before she could manage things like cooking and cleaning again. Kieran’s dad worked in a mining job that took him away from home for long periods, so Kieran had to help out more around the house and also drive his younger brother to sports events and to friends’ places.

Kieran told his boss at work about his mum’s accident and she said that they wouldn’t have him on call for the next couple of months, as obviously that wouldn’t be fair to his family.

Is this discrimination? If so, what kind?

This is caring responsibilities discrimination. Even though the boss may have intended to be helpful, assuming that someone cannot do their job because of their caring responsibilities is unlawful. It is up to Kieran to decide whether he can continue being on call despite the new demand on him to be a carer.

What could Kieran do?

•    Talk to the boss and explain that he believes he can still do all the callouts. They may be able to agree that he continue to do them.
•    Speak to the Young Workers’ Legal Service for advice.
•    Contact his union.
•    Complain to the Equal Opportunity Commission.

What should Kieran’s boss have done?

The boss did not need to do anything. She could wait and see whether Kieran has any trouble responding to callouts. There may be no problem. If she is concerned, she could ask if Kieran still wants to remain on call and they could discuss how he will manage. If Kieran says he will continue to be on call, but he starts to have trouble, for instance, he doesn’t respond to a callout because of responsibilities at home, the boss is entitled to take this up with him as a disciplinary matter.

Disability discrimination at school

Maryam arrived in Australia with her family at age 9. The family had had some bad experiences in their home country and when Maryam was enrolled in school, staff noticed that she was very nervous and shy. She often seemed exhausted in class and sometimes fell asleep. Staff learned that this was because she had nightmares and sleep problems. In year 6, Maryam had a panic attack getting onto the bus for a class excursion. A doctor diagnosed Maryam with post-traumatic stress, an illness that affects people who have had life-threatening experiences.

Maryam’s post-traumatic stress has improved over time and, at 14, she has friends and is much more outgoing. Her sleep is normal and she has not had a panic attack for 2 years. However, her teachers still tend to think of her as delicate. Maryam’s class is going on a bus trip to Canberra to visit the Museum of Australia, the War Memorial and other sites for SACE. Her teacher is worried that Maryam may panic or may not cope with the trip and decides that she should stay home and research the sites on the internet instead.

Is this discrimination? If so, what kind?

This is disability discrimination. Even if Maryam has now recovered from her illness, if she is treated unfavourably because she used to have an illness, or because her teachers believe she still has an illness, it is still discrimination. The school has a duty of care towards its students. At the same time, it must not discriminate.

How should the school have handled this?

The school could have asked Maryam and her parents how they felt about the trip. If concerned, it could have asked for a doctor’s letter to say whether Maryam would be okay. It could also ask medical advice on what to do for Maryam if she had a panic attack while away. Possibly, if Maryam is cleared to go on the trip, the school could arrange a way for her to let them know if she was feeling panicky, before things developed into an attack.

What could Maryam do?

•    Discuss the issue with her teacher or get her parents to.
•    Get a letter from her doctor saying that she is well enough to go.