Fair Work clears Canberra businessowner over firing of anti-gay marriage contractor

By @chelean on
Participants hold banners regarding same-sex marriage during the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade in central Sydney, Australia March 3, 2018.
Participants hold banners regarding same-sex marriage during the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade in central Sydney, Australia March 3, 2018. Reuters/Steven Saphore

The Canberra party business owner who fired an anti-same-sex marriage contractor has been cleared by the Fair Work Ombudsman. Madlin Sims ended her business relationship with a children’s party entertainer after the latter posted a Facebook message on voting “no” to marriage equality.

In September, Sims made headlines when she publicly revealed that she sacked a contractor for posting “it’s OK to vote no” on Facebook. At that time, the pro and anti-gay marriage campaigns were in full force to tilt the results of the then-upcoming postal survey. The contractor, identified only as Madeline, was a “no” voter, and Sims did not like that the contractor advertised her choice.

She explained in her Instagram account that she fired the contractor because the woman was a risk, and not because she disagreed with her views. Publicising her anti-gay marriage stance would be hurtful to their common friends who were gay, she said.

Sims said there was another time when Madeline posted comments on an article, saying “Australia was built on white Christianity and we need to respect those views.” Sims said the contractor was not just a “homophobe, but also a racist.”

She had received messages criticising her for firing the contractor. According to the comments, she should be sued for discrimination. The Fair Work Ombudsman, however, disagreed.

Her case was referred to Fair Work to determine whether she broke the law by firing Madeline. Another issue is whether Madeline should be treated as an employee rather than a contractor. But in a letter from an inspector, the case had insufficient evidence to determine if Madeline met the definition of employee, and therefore the FWO would not pursue action.

“The investigation … has not identified any contravention of the Commonwealth workplace laws or relevant industrial instrument,” the letter reads (via the ABC). “Discrimination occurs in the workplace when an employer takes adverse action against an employee because of a protected attribute.

“As the FWO has been unable to determine the nature of the engagement based on the evidence available, we will be taking no further action in relation to this matter at this time.”

Sims, for her part, felt the decision was a “massive weight off her shoulders.” She hoped she had not damaged the Yes campaign’s brand but was relieved when the Yes vote was finally passed. Marriage equality subsequently passed the Parliament in December, thus making it legal for the LGBT community to marry a person of the same sex.