Women and Justice: Court: Federal Court of Australia

Domestic Case Law

Plaintiff S99/2016 v. Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Federal Court of Australia (2016)

Sexual violence and rape

This case considered whether the Australian Minister for Immigration owed a duty of care to procure the safe and legal abortion for the Applicant refugee who arrived unlawfully in Australia from Africa (personal identifying information is redacted). After being resettled as a “transitory person” on Nauru, she was raped while unconscious during a seizure and became pregnant. Specifically, the Applicant sought an injunction preventing her abortion from occurring in Papua New Guinea where it would not be safe and legal and instead sought to be returned to Australia for the procedure. The Court granted the injunction to prevent the Applicant’s abortion from being performed in Papua New Guinea or any location where a participant could be subject to criminal liability. The Court held that the Minister for Immigration and the Australian Government owed the applicant a duty of care, which required them to “exercise reasonable care in the discharge of the responsibility that they assumed to procure for her a safe and lawful abortion.” However, the Court declined to require that the Minister bring the Applicant to Australia for the procedure. In reaching this decision, the Court considered the risks of the applicant seeking an abortion in Papua New Guinea, including the illegality of abortions, the poor quality of medical care, the Applicant’s dependence on Australia, and the Applicant’s medical needs. The Court also considered the imminence of harm and the insufficiency of damages as a remedy for this harm.



McBain v. State of Victoria Federal Court of Australia (2000)

Gender discrimination

Dr. John McBain, a Melbourne doctor specialising in reproductive technology, was consulted by Ms. Lisa Meldrum, a single woman wishing to conceive through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) using donor sperm. Dr. McBain told Ms. Meldrum he was prohibited by Victorian legislation (namely, the Infertility Treatment Act) from administering IVF treatment to her because she was single. He then commenced proceedings seeking a declaration that provisions of the Victorian legislation were inconsistent with the Sex Discrimination Act (in particular, section 22, which deals with discrimination in relation to the provision of goods and services), and hence inoperative to the extent of the inconsistency. Justice Sundberg held that fertility treatments, including IVF, constituted “services” provided by medical practitioners within the meaning of section 22 of the Sex Discrimination Act. Because the Infertility Treatment Act makes provision of IVF treatment contingent on a woman’s marital status (as well as her medical state), Justice Sundberg concluded that the Victorian legislation violated section 22 of the Sex Discrimination Act and was unlawful under section 109 of the Australian Constitution. This case holds that women do not have to be married or in a de facto relationship to be eligible for infertility treatment.



Poppy v. Service to Youth Council, Inc. Federal Court of Australia (2014)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The Plaintiffs, Ms. Stanley (case available here) and Ms. Poppy, each claimed that their employer discriminated against them due to their pregnancies. Both were made redundant from the same organization while on parental leave, about two years apart. Both of the Plaintiffs’ positions were eliminated by their employer due to a reorganization of the employer’s management structure. In both cases, the Plaintiffs’ absence from work caused their employer to conclude that their positions were no longer required. In particular, when Stanley and Poppy went on parental leave, their job duties were redistributed to colleagues. This caused their employer to decide that Stanley and Poppy’s positions were redundant. In both cases, the Federal Court found that the employer would not have restructured its management in this way if the Plaintiffs had not taken maternity leave. Because the restructuring involved only those employees working at the time it occurred, the fact that the Plaintiffs were on maternity leave (and thus not present) disadvantaged them. However, the Federal Court found that Plaintiffs’ dismissals did not constitute discrimination because neither Plaintiff could show that the employer treated them any differently than it would an employee who was not pregnant or on leave in similar circumstances.



Stanley v. Service to Youth Council, Inc. Federal Court of Australia (2014)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The Plaintiffs, Ms. Stanley and Ms. Poppy (case available here), each claimed that their employer discriminated against them due to their pregnancies. Both were made redundant from the same organization while on parental leave, about two years apart. Both of the Plaintiffs’ positions were eliminated by their employer due to a reorganization of the employer’s management structure. In both cases, the Plaintiffs’ absence from work caused their employer to conclude that their positions were no longer required. In particular, when Stanley and Poppy went on parental leave, their job duties were redistributed to colleagues. This caused their employer to decide that Stanley and Poppy’s positions were redundant. In both cases, the Federal Court found that the employer would not have restructured its management in this way if the Plaintiffs had not taken maternity leave. Because the restructuring involved only those employees working at the time it occurred, the fact that the Plaintiffs were on maternity leave (and thus not present) disadvantaged them. However, the Federal Court found that Plaintiffs’ dismissals did not constitute discrimination because neither Plaintiff could show that the employer treated them any differently than it would an employee who was not pregnant or on leave in similar circumstances.



Minister for Immigration and Citizenship v. SZONJ Federal Court of Australia (2011)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender discrimination

The respondent was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband for a number of years in her native country, Fiji. After unsuccessfully attempting to obtain assistance from local police, she fled to Australia and applied for a protection visa. To be recognized as a refugee the respondent had to show that Fiji’s failure or unwillingness to protect her was motivated by a reason listed in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 (Convention), in this instance, her membership in a particular social group. Respondent argued she belonged to the following social groups: women in Fiji, women in Fiji who have left their husbands, and women who refuse to conform to the social norms of Fijian Indo society. She argued that her membership in these groups meant that Fijian police would not protect her from her husband’s assaults if she returned to Fiji. The Refugee Review Tribunal (Tribunal) found: (i) there was no evidence that the Fijian authorities withheld state protection from the respondent based on her membership in these particular social groups; (ii) Fiji has laws against domestic violence; and (iii) Fiji had a police force and judiciary to give effect to its domestic violence laws. On appeal, the Federal Magistrate’s Court overturned the Tribunal’s decision, finding that the Tribunal erred by failing to explicitly evaluate whether Fiji’s laws were sufficient to protect a person in the respondent’s position. The Full Federal Court overturned the Federal Magistrate’s Court’s decision and upheld the reasoning of the Tribunal, holding that the test for refugee protection is not satisfied where (i) the persecution is by a non-state agent (here, the respondent’s husband) for a reason that has no connection to the Convention, and (ii) the state fails to prevent the persecution due solely to its inability to implement relevant laws due to lack of resources.



Gilroy v. Angelov Federal Court of Australia (2000)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

Leoni Gilroy made allegations of sexual harassment against a co-worker, Branko Angelov, who is the respondent in this case. Gilroy sought damages against her employers, Craig and Toni Botting, the second respondents. Gilroy reported the sexual harassment to Mr. Botting, who told Gilroy that he didn’t believe Angelov would act in such a way. Nevertheless, Bottling agreed to keep Angelov away from her at work. Later, Mr. Botting terminated Gilroy’s employment, stating that Mrs. Botting believed that Mr. Botting and Gilroy were having an affair. The Court entered judgment in favor of Ms. Gilroy for $24,000 against the Bottlings, highlighting the emotional and financial difficulties experienced by Ms. Gilroy.



Richardson v. Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd Federal Court of Australia (2014)

Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

Rebecca Richardson brought a sexual harassment suit against a former co-worker, Randol Tucker. Before Richardson left the company, Richardson and Tucker were colleagues at Oracle Corporation Australia. At trial, Ms. Richardson prevailed and was awarded $18,000 in damages for which Oracle Corporation Australia was vicariously liable. Ms. Richardson appealed, arguing that the award was inadequate. The High Court highlighted the difficulty in formulating awards of general damages in sex discrimination cases, but acknowledged that harassment can cause severe physical and mental strain. The Court noted that more significant awards were granted to the victims of workplace bullying than the victims of sexual harassment despite “comparable” damage caused by both types of conduct. Based on the distress Richardson experienced because of Tucker’s conduct, the Federal Court found that the $18,000 award was inadequate and substituted an award of $100,000 to compensate Ms. Richardson for psychological injury caused by the sexual harassment.



VSAI v. Minister for Immigration & Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs Federal Court of Australia (2004)

Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

A citizen of Eritrea sought protection on the basis that she feared persecution in Eritrea, where she would either be (i) conscripted into, and subject to rape and abuse by, the army or (ii) prosecuted for failure to report for conscription. Although she presented evidence that rape, sexual abuse and impregnation by military officers was committed against draftees, including at the camp to which she would be assigned, as well as evidence showing incidents of parents killed whilst resisting the drafting of their daughters, a delegate of the Refugee Review Tribunal denied the application. The court found that the Tribunal misdirected itself by not asking whether rape, sexual abuse and impregnation by military officers was deliberate or pre-meditated conduct, exposure to which the applicant could not be expected to tolerate. The court set aside the Tribunal’s decision and the matter referred back to the Tribunal.



SZAIX v. Minister for Immigration & Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs and Refugee Review Tribunal Federal Court of Australia (2006)

Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

A citizen of Indonesia sought protection on the basis that she feared persecution on the grounds of race, religion and membership of a particular social group, alleged to be either Indonesian women or Chinese Christian women in Indonesia. The appellant was raped in Indonesia. The Refugee Review Tribunal concluded that perpetrators of sexual assault in Indonesia do not engage in rape as a means of persecuting ethnic Chinese women (or women) as a particular social group. The court found that the Tribunal did not fully consider the applicant’s arguments that she feared persecution from local authorities for reporting the rape and the applicant was granted leave to amend her application to raise that ground and any other new grounds.



Kumar v. Minister for Immigration & Multicultural Affairs Federal Court of Australia (2002)

Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

A married couple, both of Indian ethnic origin and citizens of Fiji, sought protection for fear of persecution on the grounds that the wife was abducted and raped because of her Indian ethic origins and because of her husband’s local political activity. The Refugee Review Tribunal did not accept that the wife was raped for reasons of her Indian ethnic origins, nor her husband’s support for the FLP. The court affirmed.



SVFB v. Minister for Immigration & Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs Federal Court of Australia (2004)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Gender-based violence in general, Harmful traditional practices, Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

A citizen of Nigeria sought protection for fear that she would be subject to female genital mutilation. The Refugee Review Tribunal found that female genital mutilation constitutes serious harm amounting to persecution, but that on the facts, there was no real risk that the applicant would be subjected to female genital mutilation.



VWFG v. Minister for Immigration & Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs Federal Court of Australia (2005)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Forced and early marriage, Gender-based violence in general, Harmful traditional practices

A citizen of Ghana sought protection for fear that she would be subject to arranged marriage and female genital mutilation. The Refugee Review Tribunal found the applicant to be not credible, in part because she could not identify the ethnic group that the proposed husband came from. The court found these factual conclusions satisfactory and affirmed.



Minister for Immigration & Multicultural Affairs v. Ndege Federal Court of Australia (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

A citizen of Tanzania sought protection on the basis that she feared persecution as a married woman in Tanzania. The applicant had been raped by her husband and argued that Tanzanian authorities were unwilling or unable to protect female citizens. The Refugee Review Tribunal denied the application because there was no evidence that the husband’s violence was related to any protected status. The court affirmed, but nevertheless remitted to the Tribunal to consider whether the husband’s violence against the applicant had been motived by a Convention related reason, such as race, religion, nationality, political opinion or of her membership in a particular social group.



Weheliye v. Minister for Immigration & Multicultural Affairs Federal Court of Australia (2001)

Femicide, Gender-based violence in general, Sexual violence and rape

A citizen of Somalia sought a protection order on the basis that she feared persecution due to her status as young, a Somali and a woman. The application asserted that she had been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in Somalia. The Refugee Review Tribunal denied the application, finding the applicant not credible and holding that neither married nor divorced Somalia women constituted a protected group. The court held that the Tribunal erred because it did not examine whether the law against adultery was applied and administered in Somalia in a discriminatory manner.



SYLB v. Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs Federal Court of Australia (2005)

Sexual violence and rape

A married couple, citizens of Yugoslavia and ethnic Albanians, sought protection on the basis that the wife feared persecution in Kosovo. The wife was raped by a Serbian soldier. The Refugee Review Tribunal concluded that the applicants each had a well-founded fear of persecution in Kosovo at the time they fled, but that those conditions no longer existed. The court concluded that the Tribunal misunderstood the legal test to be applied for the purpose of determining whether the female applicant was unwilling, due to a well-founded fear of persecution, to avail herself of the protection of her country.



SZEGN v. Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs Federal Court of Australia (2006)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender-based violence in general

A citizen of Fiji sought an extension of time to appeal a decision by a Federal Court Magistrate who affirmed a decision by the Refugee Review Tribunal to deny a protection visa. She alleged that she had a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to Fiji as a person who had been subjected to domestic violence by her former husband and as a member of the social group of “women at risk in Fiji.” The Tribunal found that while women had historically been at risk in Fiji, recent police forms and judgments suggested that she no longer had a reasonable fear of persecution. On appeal, she alleged that the Tribunal failed to provide her with a copy of certain country information as required by Australian law. The court found that the Tribunal was prepared to accept that the applicant was a member of a protected social group but did not accept that there was a lack of state protection. The court further found that the Tribunal adequately laid out the bases for its decision and that it did not rely on the material not provided to the applicant.