skip to Main Content
1300 853 837 Media
Discrimination Is Unlawful So Why Are Some Businesses Allowed To Do It?

Discrimination is unlawful so why are some businesses allowed to do it?

It is unlawful to discriminate against someone based on an attribute like their race, skin colour, pregnancy status, disability, sex, gender, or sexual orientation, so why are some businesses and organisation allowed to do it?

For example, why was Victoria’s most elite school recently granted an exemption to discriminate against boys in student enrolments?

Last year, a major mining company was also granted an exemption to discriminate based on gender when advertising for jobs, but Queensland Rail’s application to be exempted from disability discrimination laws was rejected.

And what about all those women’s only gyms, men’s only clubs, and barber shops that insist on only cutting men’s hair?

What the law says

According to the Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland (ADCQ) there are exemptions allowed under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 which means that discriminating in some circumstances is not unlawful.

Exemptions aren’t automatic, although some are more straightforward than others.  For example:

  • Parking spaces are set aside for people with a disability.
  • A 15-year-old is paid less than a 17-year-old doing the same job.
  • Fare concessions are given to age pensioners and students on public transport.
  • Some jobs are open only to Indigenous people, or to women or men.

If other businesses or organisations want exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, then they must make an application.

Geelong Grammar

Geelong Grammar was first granted an exemption from the Equal Opportunity Act in 2013 to be allowed to offer priority enrolment and scholarships to girls over boys.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has recently extended that exemption until 2024.

The reason – to increase the number of girls in the school in relation to boys.

The school says that it has suffered from a significant imbalance in genders – as it currently stands, two in five Geelong Grammar students are female.

Principal Rebecca Cody wrote to families about the latest exemption application, explaining that it would “provide the school with the ability to maintain a coeducational balance by differentiating between students based on gender”.

“Geelong Grammar School strongly believes that coeducation sets our learners for success,” she wrote.

“We want it to be strong at all of our campuses for the benefit of all of our students, both boys and girls.”

Geelong Grammar – trying to get the male female balance right.

Anglo American Coal

Last year, Anglo American Coal was keen to recruit more mature-aged women to the male dominated industry, specifically to work underground.

The mine took its case in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, seeking an exemption from the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

The mine told the the Commission that its current female workforce was just 8 percent, and the number of women working in underground roles was five (2 percent), with just two of them over the age of 25.

The exemption was granted with the support of the ADCQ.

In her ruling, Deputy President Deirdre Swan said:

“The provision of inclusive and diverse strategies to encourage female workers within the mining industry is reasonable and appropriate.”


Religious exemptions

Unfortunately, discrimination laws currently contain exemptions which allow religious bodies and organisations, including schools, hospitals and nursing homes to discriminate against students and teachers and employees based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and lawful sexual activity.

This discrimination is permitted when the religious body or school claims that it is acting to conform to its religious beliefs or principles.

These exemptions are currently being challenged by advocacy groups, with the government committing to addressing the issue after the May 18 election.


Queensland Rail exemption request rejected

Of course there are plenty of women’s-only gyms around, and even a few men-only clubs, but not every organisation that requests an exemption is successful.

Last year, the Human Rights Commission refused a Queensland Government request for an exemption from the Disability Discrimination Act for their new but defective $4.4 billion Next Generation trains.

As it turned out, the carriages failed disability access tests, including not having enough space for wheelchairs to move into the aisle.

Queensland Rail must now modify the trains before they can be put into service at an estimated cost of $335.7 million.


Barber shops

Perhaps the area that causes the most consternation is barber shops that refuse to cut women’s hair.

Two recent cases reported in the media involved one outlet that refused to cut a woman’s hair and another that refused to cut a young girl’s hair.

Neither outlet had an exemption, so both were breaking the law by refusing service.


”Watch this disabled bitch fall’

And then there was the appalling case of security staff manning the door of the Marlborough Hotel in inner-city Newtown in Sydney.

When a young woman with cerebral palsy celebrating her 21st birthday wanted to go in, she was refused entry, and mocked and belittled, with one of the bouncers joking, “What this disabled bitch fall”.


>>  Watch this disabled bitch fall – Pub slammed for mocking woman with cerebral palsy

Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Discrimination Claims, said the hotel was lucky it wasn’t sued for discrimination.

“None of us want to live in a society where people can be refused access to a venue, or to a service, simply because of the way that we look, or our gender, or disability or sexual orientation,” he said.

“That’s why it is actually pretty rare for authorities to grant exceptions to anti-discrimination laws, and when they do, there is usually a pretty good reason for doing so.

“If barber shops or nightclubs want to refuse certain customers based on their gender or their disability, they will need to apply to their relevant state authority for a legal exemption, but I don’t like their chances.”

If you have experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be entitled to compensation.

For specialist help and advice, please call our team at Discrimination Claims today on

1800 4 EQUAL  (1800 437 825)

To connect with us, please follow us on


Back To Top