Record $77k in damages awarded over ‘black fella’ slur

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The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) have dismissed the final appeal in a long running racial discrimination dispute – the complainant will now receive some $77,000 in damages.

At the time of the incident George Fleetwood Barney, who identifies himself as a descendent of Hervey Bay's Butchulla tribe and actively involved in the Indigenous community, was employed by the state government of Queensland as a residential care officer. Barney went on sick leave in 2007 on medical advice after he found out his co-worker, Wendy Petersen, had told colleagues she did not want to swap shifts and work with the "black fella".

Barney was subsequently off work for two years, and it was found by QCAT Member Aaron Suthers that the comments contributed to Barney's depression, especially following the lack of an appropriate apology. According to testimony heard by QCAT, despite being directed to apologise for her comments, Peterson instead again referred to Barney’s race in their conversation. He alleged that Peterson had used words to the effect of “You are black, black, black. Just accept it.”

Suthers found that Barney's depression and anxiety was “significantly caused” by learning of the racial discrimination and the inappropriate nature of the subsequent “apology”. The $77,000 in compensation is the highest amount of damages ever awarded for racial discrimination in Queensland.

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