ACT News


Sex discrimination expert brings human rights complaint against the ANU

 An Australian National University law academic has lodged a complaint against her employer with the Australian Human Rights Commission, alleging the university has discriminated against her on the basis of her sex, including by paying her less then male colleagues for equal work.

Associate professor Skye Saunders, an expert in sex discrimination law and formerly an employment relations solicitor, filed the complaint late last year following unsuccessful talks with the university.

The complaint relates to alleged breaches of the federal Sex Discrimination Act, including with relation to a gender pay gap.

The university declined to comment. A spokesman said in an email: "ANU does not comment on individual staffing matters".

When contacted by The Canberra Times, Dr Saunders, who has a PhD in sex discrimination law, expressed disappointment at being unable to resolve the complaint with the university directly. She said she looked forward to a "fruitful conciliation" at the human rights commission.

Dr Saunders said she had retained prominent barrister and human rights advocate Julian Burnside QC to represent her.


Complaints made to the commission first go to conciliation, where the commission acts as an impartial third party and helps to resolve the complaint between the two parties.

If the conciliation is unsuccessful, the person who made the complaint can apply to have the case heard in the Federal Court of Australia.

The court, unlike the commission, has the power to rule on the question of whether unlawful discrimination has occurred.

Dr Saunders has published widely in the areas of sexual discrimination and harassment. In 2015, she authored a book called Whispers from the Bush - The Workplace Sexual Harassment of Australian Rural Women, which focused on sexual harassment in rural workplaces.

Last year, in an article for BroadAgenda, a blog run by the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, with the University of Canberra's Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, Dr Saunders wrote of the difficulty women across Australia faced in speaking up as well as promoting a culture of change.

"We all must take courage and be the person to call out workplace sex discrimination and bullying when we see it," Dr Saunders wrote.