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Keep on sailing

Legal case: Age discrimination

Published: 9 December 2016​

Having age-group categories in sporting competitions is one way of ensuring that everyone gets a fair go. But how does this tie in with anti-discrimination law?  

One sailor was incensed when his sailing club decided to exclude people over 25 years of age from sailing in his favourite Cherub class.   

The facts​

Mr Duggan had been sailing in the club’s Cherub class for 10 years when the club decided to limit the event to sailors aged 25 or under. Older sailors like Mr Duggan could still compete, but their results would not count towards the club championships. They were also ineligible for support from the club, such as a spot to store their boats. 

Mr Duggan was 51 years old. He complained to the Anti-Discrimination Board that he had been discriminated against on the ground of age. Conciliation failed, so the case was referred to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. 

To be successful, Mr Duggan had to prove that he was treated less favourably than would a person in a different age group, in the same or similar circumstances. 

Registered clubs​

It is unlawful for a registered club to discriminate against a member on the ground of age by:

  • denying or limiting their access to any benefit provided by the club, 
  • denying them membership or varying the terms of membership, or 
  • subjecting them to any other detriment. 
There are exceptions, such as for clubs whose principal object is the provision of services to a particular age group, or for special needs programs and activities aimed at assisting people to gain access to facilities, services and opportunities. 

Mr Duggan claimed that he was denied the opportunity to compete for the club championships.

The decision​

The Tribunal was satisfied that the club had treated Mr Duggan less favourably than younger sailors in the same or similar circumstances. 

Furthermore, it did not agree that the purpose of limiting benefits to under 25 years was to afford young people access to facilities, services or opportunities or to promote equal access for them. They already had access to these facilities, services or opportunities. The real purpose of the rule was to improve the club’s performance in the 16-foot class by bringing through more young sailors. 

The Tribunal found that Mr Duggan’s complaint of age discrimination was substantiated. It also agreed that the opportunity to compete for the club championship trophy was a significant benefit in promoting a healthy lifestyle and improving mental health. The Tribunal therefore ordered the club not to take any action in contravention of the Anti-Discrimination Act.

Take home points:

  • Registered clubs is one of the areas covered by the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), along with work, accommodation, the provision of goods and services and public education.
  • Registered clubs can provide services and facilities aimed at promoting access to benefits and opportunities for people who have special needs that would otherwise limit their participation. 
  • If the club has been set up for the specific purpose of benefiting people in a particular group, such as an age group, a cultural group or people with a disability, they can limit membership to people in their target group. 
  • Otherwise, limiting a person’s access to the benefits and opportunities of club membership just because they are of a particular age, or race or gender, for example, is unlawful.

Duggan v Belmont 16 Foot Sailing Club Ltd [2015] NSWDATAD 28 October 2015

Back to December 2016 - Equal Times Newsletter​​​​​​

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