Landmark Cases

For over 90 years, Maurice Blackburn has worked on cases of legal and social significance. This reflects both our passion for social justice and our creative and determined approach to litigation.

The 40-hour week

As far back as 1945, Maurice Blackburn was working with Australian unions to demand shorter working hours for employees.  With the ACTU as a national representative body, the firm made a claim for the 40-hour week. The case was lengthy and difficult, going all the way to the High Court.

The 40-hour case threatened industrial peace because of the widespread support for the initiative. To avoid a general strike, the New South Wales government legislated for the 40-hour week for all state employees, pre-empting the Court's decision. Queensland soon followed suit.

The Arbitration Court decided that from 1 January 1948 all employees, with the exception of those working irregular hours, were to work a standard maximum working week of 40 hours, with reasonable provision for overtime. This was a significant victory for working people.

Equal pay for women

With the influx of women into the workforce during the Second World War, female membership of unions grew and there was greater pressure for equal pay between men and women. Maurice Blackburn worked on behalf of the ACTU and numerous trade unions to advocate for pay equality as part of the basic wage claim.

In 1949-50, the ACTU's claim for an equal male and female basic wage was rejected, the rate for women being set at only 75 per cent. Many of the unions that led the struggle for equality were clients of the Maurice Blackburn. One of the most prominent was the Liquor Trades Union which from the 1930s to the 1970s, joined with the firm to lodge claim after claim for wages justice for women workers. In 1972 victory was achieved when the principle of equal pay for equal work became law.  The struggle continued in the courts and on the political stage.

Equality for Aboriginal workers - the Aboriginal Stockman's case

Between 1924 and 1966, no fewer than 11 attempts were made to give Aboriginal workers equal conditions with their fellow workers. It was only in the 1940s that a groundswell of discontent prompted small sectors of the Australian population to challenge the accepted approach to Aboriginal affairs. Until that time, political agitation on Aboriginal matters had been carried out almost exclusively by Aboriginal activists, whose were rarely heard publicly or taken seriously. Amongst the earliest non-Aboriginal Australians arguing for a fair go for Aboriginal people were Doris and Maurice Blackburn.

Aboriginal workers had to wait until 1965 for their history of wage inequality to start to change. In the Northern Territory Cattle Industry Case (1966), wage equality and award conditions were finally extended for all 'full-blooded' Aboriginal men employed as station hands. Through this landmark decision the work of the firm on behalf of the Northern Australian Workers Union, set the stage for similar decisions to be achieved in other industries.

The waterfront dispute

In 1998 Patrick Stevedores, the Commonwealth Government, Peter Reith and the National Farmers Federation (NFF) conspired to dismiss all Patrick's employees on the waterfront across Australia, shift Patrick's assets to other entities and replace the workforce with non union employees recruited and trained by the NFF. Maurice Blackburn and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) pursued legal proceedings against these parties, working to an urgent time frame set by massive industrial disputation occurring simultaneously around Australia. A team of barristers and Maurice Blackburn lawyers waged a David and Goliath-style battle against the armies of lawyers retained by major commercial law firms. The team successfully obtained a Federal Court Order to prevent the en masse sacking of the unionised workforce and its replacement by an alternative workforce, which was upheld in the Full Court of the Federal Court and finally the High Court on 4 May 1998.

The Esso class action

On Friday 25 September 1998 an explosion and fire at the Esso (Exxon) Longford gas plant tragically killed two men and injured eight workers, also resulting in a two-week gas supply shutdown for much of Victoria. This caused massive losses for Victorian businesses, employees who were stood down and consumers. Many businesses were forced to do without their gas-fuelled equipment and machinery and damage to the economy was estimated at more than $500 million.

Maurice Blackburn, together with other firms, successfully pursued a class action against Esso brought on behalf of Victorian businesses, workers and domestic users who suffered financial loss due to the explosion. The Supreme Court handed down its decision on the action in February 2003 allowing businesses that suffered property damage or economic loss flowing from property damage to recover their losses. The class action then settled in December 2004 for $32.5 million.

The GIO class action

Between August and November 1998 GIO, its directors and Grant Samuel & Associates made public statements to GIO shareholders in the course of defending a hostile takeover led by AMP Limited. The shareholders were advised that the company was profitable in the first four months of that year and expected to make a profit of $250 million. The shareholders were unanimously advised to reject the takeover offer of $5.35 per share, and many did so. Six months later the company suffered a loss of $750 million - which meant that the profit forecast had been wrong by $1 billion in just six months. The share price collapsed and the shareholders ultimately received only $2.75 per share.

The GIO class action was commenced by Maurice Blackburn on 30 August 1999 against GIO Australia Holdings Limited, its former board of directors and Grant Samuel & Associates Pty Ltd. It alleged that the statements made were misleading, deceptive and/or negligent. The case was bitterly contested and the Federal Court made many important rulings regarding class action law during it.

On 26 August 2003, the Federal Court approved a $112 million settlement of the GIO class action under which monies were paid to 22,051 shareholders. It was the first successful shareholder class action and at the time, the largest class action settlement in Australian legal history. It represented a turning point for improved accountability to shareholders and better corporate governance in Australia.

Shayan Badraie case

In 2006 Maurice Blackburn represented 11-year-old Iranian refugee Shayan Badraie in a landmark case in the NSW Supreme Court. Shayan was in detention between the ages of five and seven. He developed post-traumatic stress disorder and refused to eat, drink or talk after witnessing traumatic events such as suicide attempts, self harm and abuse in detention centres.

As the three month trial neared completion, the family was offered a settlement payment of $400,000 as compensation for psychological harm suffered by Shayan whilst in detention, which they accepted. During the trial, testimony from the former detention camp commander exposed the practices and condition of the detention centre. The case is the first time the Federal Government conceded that a person was psychologically damaged while in mandatory detention and the settlement payment is an acceptance of responsibility for the psychiatric injuries suffered by Shayan during that time. He and his family have now been granted citizenship.

The Aristocrat class action

On 28 August 2008, the Federal Court of Australia approved a $144.5 million settlement of the Aristocrat shareholder class action following a four week trial in October 2007.  This still stands as the largest class action settlement in Australian legal history.

Maurice Blackburn commenced the class action in November 2003, on behalf of all shareholders who bought shares in Aristocrat between 19 February 2002 and 26 May 2003 and who suffered loss as a result of Aristocrat's breach of the continuous disclosure regime and misleading and deceptive conduct.  The class action alleged that Aristocrat's reported profits for 2001 and the first half of 2002 were overstated and that Aristocrat did not inform the market that it was unlikely to achieve its 2002 profit forecast.

Dr Mohamed Haneef case

In 2007, Dr Mohamed Haneef was arrested and charged with a terrorism-related offence and detained for four weeks, whilst the charges were investigated. Upon release from this imprisonment, his Australian visa was cancelled and he was then placed in immigration detention. The charge was later withdrawn and the decision to cancel Dr Haneef

In 2008, Dr Haneef instructed Maurice Blackburn and other lawyers to act on his behalf during the Clarke Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his arrest and detention. The Clarke Inquiry concluded that Dr Haneef was innocent of any wrongdoing and should never have been charge or detained. We have assisted Dr Haneef in seeking compensation for his wrongful detention; read more.