Complaining to the Anti-Discrimination Board

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Before you lodge a complaint

Is your situation against the law?

The Anti-Discrimination Board can only handle complaints that are covered by NSW anti-discrimination law.  

Types of discrimination, harassment and vilification that are covered

You can also contact our enquiry service for information about anti-discrimination law and advice about the complaint process. Even if your problem is not covered we may be able to tell you who else could help you or suggest other ways to deal with the problem.

Can you resolve the complaint yourself?

If possible, you should first try to talk to the person or organisation that treated you unfairly. Be as calm as you can. Tell them that you think this unfair treatment is against the law. If you want to, take someone with you.

Use whatever help you can. For example, if it is a work problem you could ask your union for help, or ask a supervisor or manager to speak to the person or people who treated you unfairly. The organisation may also have a grievance procedure that you can follow.

The complaint process

If it's not possible to sort out the problem yourself, or you try to and it doesn't work, the next step is to make a formal complaint to the Anti-Discrimination Board.

How much will it cost me?

Nothing. The Board’s complaint handling service is free. However, if you employ your own lawyer, you will need to pay for their fees.

How much time do I have to complain?

The Anti-Discrimination Act says that if  the discrimination or harassment happened more than 12 months ago, the Board can refuse to investigate your complaint. However this is not automatic. If your complaint is about events which happened more than 12 months ago, please provide an explanation for the delay in lodging your complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board.

Who can make a complaint?

  • an individual who has been discriminated against, harassed or vilified;
  • a group of people who have been discriminated against, harassed or vilified;
  • your lawyer, or organisations such as unions and other representative bodies, as long as the complaint makes it clear that you agree with the complaint being made and you are named in the complaint. In some circumstances you may also be required to show that you consent to the complaint being made on your behalf;
  • in certain circumstances, a person can make a complaint on behalf of a child or a person with a disability if they cannot do it themselves. In this case please contact the Board for more information.

You can only lodge a complaint of vilification if you have the characteristic or come from the group that you think has been vilified. For example, you can only lodge a homosexual vilification complaint if you are gay or lesbian.

The person who complains to us is called the complainant.

Does the person I am complaining about have to know who I am?

Yes. The person or people you are complaining about – called the respondent(s) – will have to know about your complaint and who you are. The Board can only help to resolve complaints if we get both sides of the story, and this means all the people involved must know what has been said about them.

Who else will know about my complaint?

The Anti-Discrimination Board must keep your complaint confidential to the parties to the complaint, that is you and the respondent(s). This applies from the time you phone us right through the conciliation process. It is best that you don’t talk about your complaint to anyone who does not need to know. We also ask the person or organisation you have complained about not to talk to anyone who does not need to know either. This gives both sides a better chance of working things out.

Punishing you for complaining to the Board is also unlawful

If you are punished, harassed or treated unfairly because you complained to the Anti-Discrimination Board, this is called victimisation.

The law says that you must not be victimised if you have made a complaint of discrimination, harassment or vilification covered under the Anti-Discrimination Act, or you intend to make one or have helped someone else make one. This includes people who have agreed to be witnesses for your complaint.

This means that you must not be punished or receive further unfair treatment for making a complaint, or because someone thinks you may complain, or because you have helped someone else with a complaint. For example, you make a complaint of sexual harassment to your employer and then your work is suddenly scrutinised or you are dismissed.

If anyone tries to make trouble for you because you made a complaint or because they think you might make one, you should talk immediately to an officer at the Board.

How to lodge a complaint

A complaint to the Board must be in writing. You can download and fill in the Board's complaint form, or you can write a letter to the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board with the information asked for on the form.

You can email, post or fax your complaint form or letter to the Board, or deliver it to our office. The contacts for this are as follows:
Email: complaintsadb@justice.nsw.gov.au
Post: PO Box W213, Parramatta Westfield NSW 2150​
Fax: (02) 9268 5500
Street address: Level 7/10 Valentine Avenue, Parramatta NSW

Please note that a copy of your complaint and any information you send to the Board will be sent to the person or organisation you are complaining about.

You can write your complaint in any language, or in Braille. If you need help to make a written complaint, you can ask a friend or relative or someone at your local community centre to write down what you want to say and you can sign it.

If this is not possible, you can record your complaint on an audio cassette (make sure that you include the same details that you would have put in a letter or on the complaint form) and send it to the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board. If you do this you must also send us a short covering letter that says:

'I [your name] wish to make a complaint of [insert ground and area, eg sex discrimination in employment] against [insert name of person/organisation] and the details are in the enclosed cassette. [Your signature]'

Below are some tips for writing a complaint letter. These may also be useful if you are using the complaint form. 

Writing a complaint letter

A complaint letter needs to be addressed to the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board.

You should include the following information:

  • Your name, address, email address, telephone/fax number(s) and signature.

  • The name, address, and telephone/fax number(s) of the person(s)/organisation you wish to complain about. If you are complaining about a particular person in a company or organisation, also tell us their position, work address and phone number (if you can).

  • Who was involved and if you can, their names, positions and work addresses. If the events happened at work we need to know:

    • - your position or job,

      - the correct name and address of your employer (you can get this from your pay slip or pay office, or from the Australian Taxation Office);

      - the name and position of your supervisor or manager;

      - how long you have been employed there;

      - if there are six or more employees working for your employer.

  • What happened and what you did about it at the time. Include the name and position or job title of any person you reported the unfair treatment to, including your union if you are a member.

  • Where it happened. Which workplace, registered club, trade union, rented accommodation, shop, service, or public place.

  • When it happened. As closely as you can remember – the day, month, year of each time you were treated unfairly.

  • The kind of discrimination, harassment or vilification you think it is, that is race, sex, age, marital or domestic status, homosexuality, disability, transgender or carer;s responsibilities discrimination, or racial, homosexual, transgender or HIV/AIDS vilification.

  • Why you think it is this kind of discrimination, including any evidence you have to support this. For example:

    • - the names of any witnesses who would be willing to give us information about the discrimination;

      - a statement from a witness;

      - a photograph;   

      - a note you made at the time;   

      - a copy of any poster, notice, letter or anything else you feel is unfair to you;   

      - a copy of anything that shows how someone else in a similar position to you has been treated differently to the way you were treated;   

      - anything else that supports what you say, such as emails or letters.

  • If the complaint is urgent. The Board usually handles complaints in the order that they are received. If you have an urgent complaint, for example you are about to lose your job or your accommodation, you should write on your complaint that it is urgent and tell us why. We will then decide if your complaint can be prioritised.
  • How you would like the problem to be resolved. If possible, include what you would like to sort out the complaint. This is called a 'settlement proposal'. This will help us to decide how to deal with your complaint. Because the Board is impartial, we are unable to help you decide on a settlement proposal. If you are unable to decide on a settlement proposal, you should seek independent legal advice from your own lawyer or a community legal centre. You can ask for any reasonable solution to resolve the unfair treatment you received, such as:

      - getting your job back – or a transfer, promotion, or extra training at work;

      - getting whatever you were previously refused – for example, accommodation, a loan if you applied for one, admission to a course, and so on;

      - an apology;

      - changes to policies and procedures to make sure the discrimination does not happen again to anyone else, for example introducing an equal opportunity policy in the workplace;

      - education programs in the workplace or organisation involved, so that everyone there, including managers, knows what discrimination is, how to prevent it, and what to do if it happens to them or to anyone else;

      - compensation (money) paid for any money you have lost (such as wages), or for damages or hurt feelings;

      - a donation to a charity of your choice;

      - anything else that might need to be done to make up for the unfair treatment.

    What happens when you lodge a complaint

    The Board will send you a letter of acknowledgment within two weeks of receiving your complaint. The Manager of the Enquiries and Conciliation Branch will assess your complaint to determine if it is covered under the Anti-Discrimination Act.

    How long will it take to resolve my complaint?

    Resolving complaints can take several months and very complex cases may take longer. However, many complaints can be sorted out more quickly. We aim to deal with complaints within six months from the time you lodge your complaint.

    Your complaint may be declined

    If your complaint is not covered by the Anti-Discrimination Act, or there is not enough information to show that you have been discriminated against, we will send you a letter to tell you that we cannot help with your complaint and explain why. If we can, we will also tell you who else might be able to help you.

    If your complaint is covered by the Anti-Discrimination Act

    If your complaint does show that you may have been discriminated against under the law, your complaint handler will contact you for any other information we need, either by phone or letter. We will explain what we can and can’t do, and the steps involved in our complaint resolution process.

    After we have contacted you, the Board will send a copy of your complaint and any paperwork you have provided to the respondent(s), that is the person or people you are complaining about. This is in fairness to the respondent, and so that the Board can get as much information about your complaint as possible.

    Remember, complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Board are confidential and it is also against the law to treat you badly because you have made a complaint.

    The respondent’s reply

    We will give the respondent a deadline to respond to us in writing about your complaint. You will then receive a copy of the respondent’s letter to us for your comment. Often complaints are resolved at this point. If not, the next step is a conciliation conference.

    Conciliation conferences

    A conciliation conference is a meeting where you and the respondent meet to talk about the complaint and ways to sort it out, usually with the assistance an officer from the Board. The complainant and respondent(s) can meet directly or through their representatives if the President allows this. It is a free service provided by the Board. ​

    Read more on conciliation conference​

    ​Resolving your complaint

    You should bring a proposal for settling your complaint to the conciliation conference (see above). The Board aims to resolve the complaint at the conference, but if necessary, both sides can have a period of time after the conciliation conference to consider the settlement proposal.

    The complaint handler cannot tell either side what to settle on. If you have no idea about what would be a fair or reasonable resolution, we can give you information about how to get advice on this.

    Usually when the complaint is finalised there will be a deed of release or a conciliation agreement. These documents set out the outcome that both parties have agreed to. A deed of release is generally provided by the respondent and is legally binding. A conciliation agreement is not legally binding and the Board cannot enforce it, but you can register the agreement with the Administrative Decisions Tribunal and have it enforced.

    What happens if the complaint isn’t resolved during the conciliation conference?

    • Both parties can continue negotiations after the conciliation conference, if this is appropriate;
    • you can withdraw the complaint;
    • you can ask the President to refer the complaint to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal as being unable to be conciliated; or
    • the President may decline the complaint as lacking in substance because there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence. If this happens, then you can still take the complaint to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal.

    Withdrawing a complaint

    You can ask the Board to stop dealing with your complaint at any time during the investigation or conciliation process. No-one else can withdraw a complaint except the complainant.

    To withdraw your complaint, you need to write to the person handling your complaint and tell them that you want to withdraw it. Your file will then be closed. We won’t do anything more with it and we will not re-open it later if you change your mind.

    The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal

    If you and the respondent cannot agree on a way to resolve the complaint, you can ask the President to send it to the Administrative and Equal Opportunity Division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a legal decision.

    The Tribunal is like a court and its hearings are public. It will consist of three people who are experienced in anti-discrimination law. The Tribunal listens to all the arguments and evidence from both sides.

    The Tribunal is the only place where a legally binding decision can be made about whether discrimination has occurred. If the Tribunal finds that NSW anti-discrimination law has been broken, they will decide what should be done about it. If the Tribunal decides the law has not been broken they will say so.

    Outcomes of the Tribunal

    If the Tribunal decides that unlawful discrimination has occurred, it can make an order that the person who has been discriminated against should

    • be paid compensation (money);
    • get the thing or service they were denied; and/or
    • receive an apology.

    The Tribunal can also make an order that the respondent must do whatever is needed to make sure that the unfair treatment does not happen again. Sometimes the Tribunal may order that a public apology be made to the person who complained.

    Because the Tribunal is like a court, people directly involved in the complaint usually need solicitors. Each side normally pays its own legal costs. Usually the Tribunal is open to the public and the complaint will no longer be kept confidential. However, the Tribunal may keep names and address confidential in special cases.

    What if I’m unhappy with the way my complaint is being handled?

    If you are unhappy at any time during the process of resolving your complaint, speak to your complaint handler about your concerns. If it happens during a conciliation conference, ask for a break so you can speak to the complaint handler privately. Tell the complaint handler exactly what you are feeling and why. It may be something that can be cleared up straight away.

    If you feel you cannot continue with the complaint handler after discussing the problem with them, you should tell them this and say what you think the next step should be. You could also speak to the Manager of the Enquiries and Conciliation Branch, or make a written complaint to the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board. 

    Read more information on making a complaint about our service

    You also have the right to complain to the NSW Ombudman’s Office about the way your complaint was handled. But you cannot complain to the Ombudsman about the result of conciliation or about decisions of the Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

    If your discrimination complaint goes to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal and you are not satisfied with the decisions the Tribunal makes, you may be able to appeal to a higher court. Before you do this, you should get legal advice about whether it is worthwhile.