A woman who uses a wheelchair was left embarrassed and humiliated after an encounter with staff while shopping for plants at Bunnings, a tribunal has found.
The woman complained to the ACT Human Rights Commission after her Sunday morning shopping trip went awry and she alleged she was discriminated against because of her disability.
At the time, because of new Covid requirements, the airport Bunnings had new rules in place about entering and exiting the store.
The woman, a Bunnings regular, did what she normally did and after her daughter parked the car near the garden centre and picking up some plants they went to enter though the centre.
But the woman was stopped and told she could only come in through the main entrance.
The shopper said she was assertive but not aggressive when telling staff about her difficulties with access.
The woman, who is partially blind and deaf, said she was shouted at when she didn't immediately leave.
The woman, overwhelmed and frightened, moved further inside to try to turn the unwieldy electric wheelchair around, fearing it tipping over.
She said another employee stationed there also yelled at her, saying: "I don't care, I don't care."
The shopper paid for her plants and left.
Bunnings denied it was a case of discrimination and said instead it was poor customer service.
But the woman felt it was discrimination and the service lacked the usual kindness, understanding, compassion and empathy she was used to from the Bunnings staff.
In May 2020 Bunnings was in the beginnings of introducing its Covid safety plan.
Witness statements from staff said the woman and her daughter responded aggressively to being told they couldn't enter through the garden centre.
The employee who said "I don't care" told his supervisor he said he didn't care if the shopper called his manager, not that he didn't care about her disability.
The case was referred to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In a decision published last month, the tribunal found Bunnings had illegally indirectly discriminated against the shopper because of her disability.
Senior member, Professor Tony Foley, said the staff had the discretion to allow certain customers in through the garden centre but only exercised it when the woman asserted herself.
Mr Foley said this escalated to a "nasty exchange".
The tribunal found the woman had been treated unfavourably because of a lack of understanding about how a person with a disability might enter the store.
"As a consequence, the applicant could only access the goods and services being provided by the respondent in the face of certain conduct," Mr Foley said.
"This conduct had the effect of disadvantaging her by the distress, embarrassment and upset it caused her, and I find this disadvantage was because of her disability."
Mr Foley said there was a mitigating factor, being the Covid pandemic was in its early stages and the shop's focus was on new public health measures.
He awarded the shopper $500, saying while nominal it recognised the genuine distress and humiliation she suffered.
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