14 October 2022

Queanbeyan council sued over alleged racial discrimination against employee

| Albert McKnight
Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre

The plaintiff alleges she was discriminated against while working in the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. Photo: VisitNSW.

A woman alleges she suffered racial discrimination while working for Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC), including being told not to burn patrons her colour after agreeing to become a fire warden.

She is now suing the council and two of the employees she worked with in the Federal Court of Australia.

The plaintiff, a black woman, began working for the council at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre (The Q) in 2020, according to documents filed with the court.

She alleged she was working an event at The Q in September or October 2020 and agreed to become a fire warden. She asked for the support of another employe in a more senior position, who she is now suing.

She claims this woman told her words to the effect of, “yeah, that’s fine, we will support you but as long as you don’t burn the patrons your colour”.

In a meeting with three other council employees around October 2020, she alleges she was told not to use black people in the marketing material for a work project.

She claims she was told words to the effect of, “you shouldn’t be using black people because you are trying to say something”.

In another alleged incident, the plaintiff met with the two employees named in her claim on Christmas Eve 2020, where one called her a “black slave”.

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In September 2020, she claimed she was in her office when the same woman handed her a piece of paper with the words “shut up, mole” written on it.

This woman is also alleged to have tugged the plaintiff’s hair four times in 2020 to see if it was real.

Lastly, several council employees were in The Q to make a Christmas video in December 2020. The plaintiff alleges she was told to stand near the theatre’s lights and that she could not be seen without all the lights on.

The plaintiff lodged a formal complaint with QPRC in February 2021, took sick leave that April and did not return to work.

She is arguing the alleged behaviour breached the Racial Discrimination Act by degrading, insulting and demeaning her race and colour. This allegedly impacted her work conditions.

She also argues council is liable for the alleged conduct of its two employees she said racially discriminated against her.

She argues she suffered humiliation, depression, anxiety, loss of income and damage to her personal and professional reputation.

In documents filed for the defence, QPRC and its two employees deny breaching the discrimination act and that the plaintiff suffered loss or damages.

Council says the plaintiff was not called a “black slave”, her hair was not pulled and the alleged discrimination in the fire warden incident did not occur.

It argued the two employees named in the claims used the words “shut up mole” as a term of affection and it referred to Kylie Mole, a character from the 1980s comedy series Comedy Company.

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It said that the council used people of various ethnicities, ages and genders in its marketing material.

Also, it claimed everyone joining in the Christmas video was told to stand in specific locations due to the poor lighting in the theatre at the time.

The plaintiff originally lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission in July 2021, alleging the council had discriminated against her.

She is represented by Sam Tierney from Ken Cush and Associates. The matter will return to court in the future.

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