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High Court Rejects Unsafe Discrimination Ruling

High Court Rejects "Unsafe, Erroneous" Discrimination Ruling


For Immediate Release: 8 May 2003

High Court Rejects "Unsafe, Erroneous" Discrimination Ruling

A unanimous judgement by the High Court in Auckland has overturned a ruling which could have broadened the risk to employers of unwarranted discrimination claims.

Commenting on the ruling by the Complaints Review Tribunal, High Court Judge, John Priestley, yesterday sharply criticised the Tribunal's decision, saying it was "unsafe, erroneous, contrary to the evidence and cannot stand".

The case involved Auckland law firm Claymore Law and a former part-time employee, Chrissi Anderson. Anderson, having taken legal advice, had laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission alleging that she had been made redundant as a result of announcing her pregnancy. She claimed that she had been discriminated against.

The Human Right Commission, after considering the matter, decided there were no grounds for pursuing it further. Anderson then took her claim direct to the Complaints Review Tribunal, which was presided over at that stage by Susan Bathgate.

In a majority decision, the Tribunal found that Claymore Law had breached the Human Rights Act, finding that Claymore had directly discriminated against Anderson, whom, the Tribunal said, had been made redundant because of her pregnancy.

The Tribunal also found that Claymore had indirectly discriminated against Anderson, because, in deciding it needed a full-time as opposed to part-time staff member, Claymore had effectively ruled Anderson out of contention because of her child care commitments.

A strongly dissenting judgment, stating that Claymore Law had not breached the Human Rights Act, was submitted by one member of the three-person Tribunal.

Claymore Law subsequently appealed the Tribunal's decision to the High Court.

Judge Priestly yesterday described the Tribunal majority's decision regarding the alleged dismissal because of the pregnancy as "not open to it on the facts".

"The Tribunal had before it undisputed factual matters which prevented it from safely reaching the conclusion it did ... the reasoning process is both unconvincing and unsafe. It could not be a decision reached by reason of Ms Anderson's pregnancy because the decision makers were totally unaware of her pregnancy," he said.

The High Court also found the Tribunal majority's reasoning process to be unsatisfactory regarding the claim of indirect discrimination under S.65 of the Human Rights Act and said that this reasoning did not justify a finding of indirect discrimination.

Judge Priestly added that the case was "bluntly speaking, ... not a suitable case to set precedents in that area".

The Court went on to say that "Ms Anderson's employment was terminated not as a result of indirect discrimination under S.65 but by her own actions".

Claymore Law's Principal, Greg Barclay, says that he feels relieved and vindicated by the decision but disappointed that an issue which, on the facts, should never have required High Court determination, has taken almost three years to resolve. "We are also pleased that the Tribunal's decision has not become a legal landmark because of the far-reaching implications this would have had for employers generally," he adds.


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