Charity high tea turns litigious

A woman who suffers from severe food allergies recently made a claim for unlawful discrimination in the Federal Magistrates Court over a High Tea charity event she attended.

After being invited to attend the charity event at a cost of $50 per head, Ms Mulcahy contacted the event coordinator in the hope of attending the event free of charge as she would be unable to eat the food which would be served. Therefore, she claimed that she was placed in a less advantageous position than other attendees. Ms Mulcahy was subsequently informed that the ticket cost also took into account venue hire and the charity component. Eventually a compromise of $25 for her ticket was reached and the hosting hotel was to meet her specific meal requirements. The hotel failed to do so and Ms Mulcahy was left “very disappointed”.

Following a complaint to the Human Rights Commission being dismissed, Ms Mulcahy instituted proceedings against the event coordinator on the basis that she had been unlawfully discriminated against as her special dietary needs were not met despite making the event coordinator aware of her allergies and requirements.

The Disability Discrimination Act (the Act) provides that it is unlawful for a person who provides goods or services to discriminate against another person on the ground of their disability. Further, the Act provides that it is unlawful for a club or association to discriminate against a member on the ground of their disability by subjecting the member to other detriment.

In this case, the Federal Court Magistrate found that the claim did not trigger the provisions of the Act and that Ms Mulcahy had not suffered detriment or any particular loss, damage or injury. Accordingly, her claim was summarily dismissed on the basis that it had no reasonable prospects of success and Ms Mulcahy was ordered to pay legal costs.

Although seemingly frivolous (given the costs involved), it is of importance to note that employers could be found guilty of discrimination under similar circumstances to this case. Accordingly, employers should inquire about any special dietary requirements of their employees to avoid any potential liability.