Big penalty for disability discrimination

4 October 2013

A Sydney medical practice and two directors have been fined a total of $123,690 for discriminating against a young woman because of her disability.

The Fair Work Ombudsman took legal action against the company and directors for underpaying the young, vision-impaired worker more than $20,000.

The Federal Circuit Court in Sydney today imposed a fine of $88,870 against Rocky Holdings Pty Ltd, which operates ‘Medical Centre 2000’ at Liverpool.

The Court also fined two directors and managers, brothers Dr Ahmed Mohamed and Dr Ismail Mohamed $17,410 each. Dr Ahmed Mohamed is the majority owner of the practice.

The Court found the company and directors breached disability discrimination provisions of the Fair Work Act when the part-time receptionist was underpaid $20,847 between 2009 and 2012, because of her disability.

The employee was aged between 18 and 21 at the time and suffers a disability affecting her vision - retina detachment, cataracts and high pressure.

She was initially a patient of Dr Ismail Mohamed when she was offered work at the medical practice.

She was required to do more than a month of unpaid training before being paid a flat rate of $7 to $8 an hour from February, 2010 to February, 2012, which was below the $10 - $17 an hour she should have been paid.

The Court had heard that the company received a subsidy for the employee through the Disabled Australian Apprentice Wage Support program, which specifically required the worker to be paid Award rates.

Fair Work Ombudsman, Natalie James, said under the Fair Work Act, it was unlawful to discriminate against employees on the grounds of pregnancy, race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer responsibilities, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

“In this case, Fair Work Inspectors asked the employer to voluntarily fix the underpayment, but they refused, only paying the employee the unpaid wages after the commencement of legal action” Ms James said.

“Given the blatant nature of the discrimination and the fact that the practice was receiving a wage subsidy for the employee, the Fair Work Ombudsman commenced legal proceedings.

“This significant penalty sends a strong message to employers that discrimination in the workplace will not be tolerated.

“In this case, the employee knew she was not receiving her full entitlements and raised the matter on several occasions directly with her employer, who refused to correct the situation.

“After lodging a complaint with the Fair Work Ombudsman, the matter ultimately went to court and, as a result of the employer’s discriminatory behaviour and refusal to correct the underpayment, they now have to pay these penalties.”

The underpayment was only rectified after the commencement of legal actions. The employee was also paid $5,000 to the employee for non-economic loss.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is here to help employers be aware of their obligations and ensure they are compliant with workplace laws.

“Our Infoline, on 13 13 94 can provide valuable information to employers to avoid unintended breaches of workplace laws. This is particularly helpful to small businesses which don’t have the benefit of in-house expertise such as HR or workplace specialists,” Ms James said.

Employers or employees seeking assistance should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 or visit www.fairwork.gov.au. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.

Media inquiries:

Penny Rowe, Media & Stakeholder Relations
0457 924 146
media@fwo.gov.au

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