Political belief or activity case studies

Carey v Cairns Regional Council [2011] QCAT 26, 21 January 2011

This was a complaint of discrimination on the basis of political belief or activity, and association with a person with the attribute of political belief or activity, against four local government councillors and the Cairns Regional Council. The complainant's contract of employment was terminated, with no reason being given for termination.

The four individual respondents were councillors of the Douglas Shire Council before it became part of the new Cairns Regional Council in March 2008. The Cairns Regional Council inherited the liabilities of the Douglas Shire Council upon the amalgamation.

The complaint was made out against the Council but dismissed against the individuals because the Local Government Act protects councillors acting in their capacity as elected representatives, except in the case of dishonesty or negligence.

The complainant was engaged by the Council as a general manager for community and corporate services. From 2006 to 2008 the Council was divided by disputes about environmental issues, and was so dysfunctional that after a series of investigations, the local government minister proposed dissolving it. The disputes were largely between the Mayor on one side and the four individual respondents and the Council CEO on the other. The Mayor was supported by Roison Allen, an environmental activist who regularly attacked the four in the local press and council chambers. The complainant was in a de facto relationship with Ms Allen at the time.

During the final term of the Council, the Mayor was critical of the performance of the CEO and eventually the CEO's employment was terminated, and was not reinstated despite efforts by the four to do so.

At a meeting held shortly before the council amalgamation, and while the complainant was on sick leave, the four respondents voted in favour of terminating the complainant's contract, and this was done. The issue of the termination had not been on the agenda and no reasons were given for the termination.

The tribunal found on the evidence that the complainant's contract was terminated 'as an act of political retribution' either as 'political payback against a political opponent', or because of the complainant's association with Ms Allen. Although the respondents had filed documents in the tribunal alleging there were issues with the complainant's performance, they did not give evidence at the hearing.

The tribunal also found that although the contract allowed for termination for any reason on six months' notice (or payment in lieu), this did not allow termination for a discriminatory reason. In effect, parties cannot contract out of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 .

Total damages of $368,033.06 was awarded to Mr Carey, which included amounts for past and future economic loss, loss of opportunity, general damage of $30,000 and medical expenses.