Worker subjected to shocking racism and bullying sues employer

16 March 2016
A car salesman, who was subjected to a protracted campaign of racist bullying and harassment while working at South Melbourne Toyota, is seeking damages and other orders in the Federal Court.

The Court will hear claims that the employee was repeatedly called a “black c**t”, “BC”, “a f***ing curry muncher” and “curry” by management and co-workers, in addition to having air freshener sprayed around him while he ate his lunch.

The employee, who was born in Sri Lanka, also alleges that management and some of his colleagues racially vilified customers, referring to them behind their backs as “curry munchers”, “black c**ts” and “boat people”.

Other racist remarks about customers were also allegedly made in his presence, such as: “This car is better for some curries, others won’t buy this car, only curries”. He claims he was also asked on occasions about Indian customers he was serving: “Who’s this black pig?”

The employee is suing South Melbourne Toyota for multiple contraventions of Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). He kept a diary of the racist abuse and mistreatment. The diary also details how management directed him to withhold information about deficiencies in the cars that he was directed to sell.

The worker alleges that sales leads were unfairly allocated to other employees and he was denied access to resources required to carry out his role, including where staff could obtain information about cars.

He claims at times he was belittled in front of customers, received capricious and unwarranted performance criticism and was denied time-off-in-lieu for extra hours he worked, which his colleagues were allowed to take.

Josh Bornstein, employment law principal at Maurice Blackburn, said his client was seeking compensation for loss and damage, past and future economic loss, medical expenses and general damages.

“The racial vilification and bullying our client has received at this workplace progressively worsened over time and has had a profound impact on his enjoyment of life, his health and his ability to work. South Melbourne Toyota has operated in an awful workplace culture,” Mr Bornstein said.

“He has been medically certified as unfit to attend work since September last year, has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, is required to take daily medication and has to attend regular counselling sessions with a psychologist. At this stage, we don’t know when he will be fit to return to work. His condition has also had a major effect on his family.”

South Melbourne Toyota initially instigated an investigation into his racism allegations, but is understood to have abandoned the probe before it was completed.

The company has disputed the employee’s claims, relying on another investigation by a WorkSafe insurer, which rejected a claim for workers’ compensation on the basis that it had found that management had acted “reasonably”.

Mr Bornstein said the insurance company’s investigation was “deeply flawed” and was confident that the decision to deny the employee workers’ compensation would be overturned.

“The insurance company has not seen our client’s diary or spoken to relevant witnesses to the racist abuse,” he added.

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