A Maori man who worked for a Queensland tourism operator is seeking damages from his former employer, claiming he was left a can marked “black guy repellent” after asking for a bottle of sunscreen.
McDuff Tupetagi has filed a complaint to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, alleging that when he requested a shade sail from his former employers, Rainbow Beach Adventure Company, it was rejected, with staff telling him it was “because you’re black”.
In his statement of claim, Mr Tupetagi alleged he was frequently made the butt of “black jokes” including by people asking, “Where is the black fella?”.
Mr Tupetagi said in the latest incident on November 8 last year, a colleague told him there was a “present” waiting for him in his car.
What he found was an empty canister of sunscreen wrapped in yellow tape with “black guy repllent (sic)” and “Caution! Use only on blacks” written on the side.
In court documents, Mr Tupetagi said it was a product “designed to chase ‘blacks’ away” or even kill them.
He said he felt like “an unwanted creature or pest” after finding the sunscreen.
In response, the company admitted the can was left in Mr Tupetagi’s car, but said it was not an act of racism or vilification.
The company claimed the colleague who left the canister in the car had been friends with Mr Tupetagi for eight years.
“Practical jokes were common between them in their personal lives including ones of a similar nature to the incident,” the company said in court documents.
The company also claimed no incident like that had occurred before, or since, and that those responsible had been disciplined.
It also said it had no knowledge of staff using phrases such as, “because you’re black” or asking, “where is the black fella?” in relation to Mr Tupetagi.
The company also claimed that the behaviour did not incite hatred, contempt or ridicule of Mr Tupetagi.
Mr Tupetagi is seeking damages for hurt and humiliation, with court documents claiming he now requires “extensive and ongoing psychiatric intervention” for a variety of medical issues including severe depression and agoraphobia.
Lawyers DLA Piper, who are representing Rainbow Beach Adventure Company, have been contacted for comment.
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan who represents Mr Tupetagi said the other workers’ actions were not signs of mateship.
“This is a bloke who was just doing his everyday work, and his workmates left a shocking canister when he asked for some sunscreen,” Mr Heffernan said.
They thought it was some sort of joke but it was a real act of cruelty on a worker just trying to do his job.
“It’s not workplace joviality or a bit of banter between mates. It’s a bloke who is not white being treated horribly because of the colour of his skin.”
Mr Heffernan said his client went from being a worker who loved his job despite the sometimes difficult circumstances, to being barely able to leave the house.
He said it was among the worst examples of discrimination he had seen in 20 years.
“This is the sort of thing that shouldn’t happen in a modern workforce and the employer of course should know better,” he said.
The matter is due to be heard in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission later this year.