Civil Law

By Erin Taylor


“This is not the way men do things” – have you been the subject of sex discrimination?

Sex discrimination and sexual harassment have been a very live issue in the media of late (if you haven’t see it, where have you been?) I count myself lucky to work in a workplace where the contributions of all our people, male or female, are equally valued. But obviously, that is not the case across many organisations.

On a personal level, a recent experience gave me the inspiration for today’s article. The incident occurred in the context of a meeting to discuss some issues of a particular organisation. Some dissatisfaction amongst a few of the interested parties spurred the calling of a meeting to put the issues to the people involved. Perhaps I’m out of touch, but I would’ve thought that arranging a face to face discussion was a pretty reasonable way of dealing with things.

During the meeting, a comment was made by one of the males in the room to the effect that ‘I’ve been involved in many organisations, mostly men’s organisations and, I’ve got to say, men wouldn’t do it this way’. To say this comment floored me is an understatement. It’s 2017 people!! In fact, I was rendered pretty much speechless for the remainder of the meeting. If the intention of the maker of the comment was to shut me up, well, it worked a treat!

I’m not sure what this man meant by the comment, or which part of holding a face to face meeting wasn’t appropriate in the circumstances. My sense is he thought we were a bunch of hysterical females getting our knickers in a knot. I wonder if he thought the better way to deal with it was to have a punch up, or maybe a sculling contest? Perhaps measure our muscles and see who has the biggest?

But of course, this is supposed to be a blog about the law, so where does the law fit into it? The comment above is probably morally wrong, but is it legally wrong? Not in that context. People can be sexist in their day to day lives if they choose to. But in some contexts, it is against the law to be sexist. For example, if the comment was said in a workplace and it was evidence indicating that I wasn’t given a promotion or wasn’t given the same opportunities as males in the workplace simply because I’m a woman then yes, it is against the law.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) makes it against the law to treat you unfairly because of your: sex; gender identity; intersex status; sexual orientation; marital or relationship status (including same-sex de facto couples); family responsibilities; because you are pregnant or might become pregnant or because you are breastfeeding.

For example, it would be sex discrimination to give a job to a male candidate in preference to a female candidate (and vice versa) just because he was a male. It would be sex discrimination to pay a male more for doing the same job as a female (and vice versa). It would be sex discrimination if a person was denied access to a particular venue or service provider just because of their sex (before you all start asking ‘what about female only gyms etc etc?’ there are some exceptions to the discrimination laws that allow discrimination in certain circumstances, but I’ll leave that for next time).

If you experience sex discrimination you can make a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission. They will investigate and can hold a conciliation between the parties. If this doesn’t resolve the complaint, it can go as far as the Federal Court. If you experience sex discrimination in the workplace, there may also be remedies available to you under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) if your employer has taken adverse action against you because of your sex.

As always, if you have any questions or would like to discuss your experiences, get in touch.