A former animal care coordinator is suing the University of Melbourne for sex discrimination, claiming that she was paid less than her male colleagues who did less work and had fewer responsibilities than her.
Lianne, who did not want her surname published, says she took the legal action after she made a number of unsuccessful attempts to be paid the same as her male co-workers.
She also alleges that the university made her job redundant after she complained about the gender pay gap.
Lianne worked at the university’s Werribee campus for veterinary students, looking after a number of different types of animals, including birds, pigs, horses, cattle and sheep.
She also administered medication to animals, provided teaching support, had three staff report to her, wrote policies, purchased animals, performed farm maintenance, and drove a forklift.
In contrast, she claims that one of her male counterparts only looked after dogs, while the other had no casual staff reporting to him, but had to manage a larger parcel of land.
“(They) performed tasks that I believed were very similar to that of my role, although they each had less responsibilities than me,” according to an affidavit presented to the court.
She said one of her male colleague’s portfolios comprised dogs, with about four dogs in the colony.
“And yet I manage two portfolios and cover five species of animals,” she said.
Lianne claimed the men were paid between $1,672 and $8,945 a year more than her.
“It seems that there is some gender inequality with regards to salaries,” Lianne wrote in an email to her manager, which forms part of her affidavit.
First raised pay concerns in 2014
Lianne, who worked at the university for eight years, first raised concerns about her pay in 2014.
As a result, she received a small pay rise, but still earned less than her male co-workers.
In 2016, she applied for her position to be reclassified, arguing that her job had become more complex, and men who performed similar tasks were paid more.
The application was unsuccessful.
“The panel agreed that the duties and responsibilities required of the position are correctly classified,” a letter from the university said.
She was given $2,000 in recognition of her “contribution to the role” and was told that she could use this for study expenses or attending a conference.
Discrimination complaint led to redundancy
In May 2017, Lianne made a formal sex discrimination complaint against the university in the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
“These other positions are classified at a higher level than mine, the only difference within the roles is that they are occupied by males,” her complaint read.
“I have been extremely distressed as a result of the lengthy and unprofessional processes, the lack of communication, the deception, the discrimination, increased work tasks and responsibilities.”
In August 2017, Lianne was told a restructure of the department would result in a number of positions, including her own, being made redundant.
Case referred to the Federal Circuit Court
After a conciliation session failed in the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Lianne’s case has now been referred to the Federal Circuit Court.
She is making a general protections claim involving dismissal, arguing she was unlawfully sacked for making a complaint about discrimination.
She is seeking compensation for loss of income and for pain and suffering.
A University of Melbourne spokesman confirmed it was defending a general protections claim brought by a former employee.
“It would be inappropriate for the university to comment on this matter while it is before the court,” he said.
What the experts say
Industrial advocate James Vercoe says it is unlawful to dismiss an employee who makes a complaint about discrimination.
“An employer cannot take adverse action against an employee if they ask about their working conditions like their pay or hours of work, and they certainly can’t take adverse action against an employee who makes a complaint about sexual harassment or discrimination,” he said.
“If they sack the employee, then it’s called an unlawful dismissal, and courts can award hefty pecuniary penalties to the worker.”
Mr Vercoe advised employers to always take complaints of discrimination or sexual harassment extremely seriously.
“The best thing to do is seek expert advice from workplace lawyers and industrial advocates like our firm – the worst thing you can do is ignore the complaint, or sack the person making the complaint, because if they bring a general protections claim, it could end up costing your business thousands of dollars in compensation,” he said.
The University of Melbourne case is expected to be heard in the Federal Circuit Court next week.
If you have suffered discrimination based on your gender or sex or sexuality, or if you have been dismissed from employment after making a complaint about discrimination or sexual harassment, you may be entitled to compensation.
For help and advice, please call our team at Discrimination Claims on
1300 853 837
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