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Anti-discrimination and race: important information for business and customers

in Business Law by Rachel Cosentino on

Most of us enjoy the freedom to walk in and out of shops or venues as we like, but what if someone prevented you from entering their store or refused to serve you because of the colour of your skin?

What anti-discrimination rights do customers have and how can businesses make sure they’re doing the right thing?

Businesses in Australia are subject to two important pieces of legislation which ensure that customers are not victims of racial discrimination in the provision of goods or services. This includes retail, hospitality, finance and housing.

The Commonwealth Race Discrimination Act and the relevant equal opportunity laws in each State and Territory, both prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race in the provision of services.

Once you are in the business of providing a service or product, then these anti-discrimination acts apply, and they allow no room for barring people from a shop or venue based on their race.

Generally, an owner or occupier of any shop is allowed to refuse access as long as they would do the same for any customer in the same or similar circumstances.

In other words, a person cannot be singled out for different treatment based on their race. If the only reason to refuse entry is because they were a certain race you could face a potential claim for discrimination.

For example, if you’re working alone at a service station at night and you refuse entry because a customer looks ‘suspicious’, then why do they look suspicious? Is it because they are carrying a baseball bat or are they wearing a balaclava?  Or is it because they’re a particular race?

If you can’t adequately explain why they look suspicious without reference to their race, the court could make an inference that the refusal of entry was based on race.

Any person who feels they have been discriminated against, can apply to the relevant Australian Human Rights regulators in each State seeking damages, an apology, or other orders to prevent the discrimination from occurring again through education and the introduction of policies.

Businesses should have policies about racial discrimination in the provision of goods or services, and undertake frequent staff training about these issues.

If you are a retailer or a customer and you want to know more about your responsibilities, visit the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

Rachel Cosentino is a specialist litigation lawyer at Slater and Gordon.

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