Man seeks damages for sex bias

May 26, 1995

A barrister has accused the University of Melbourne of discriminating against him for a position in its French department because he is Australian and a male.

Peter Freckleton is seeking a ruling from the federal Human Rights Commission that the university should either employ him or pay him damages.

Dr Freckleton had formerly taught at both Melbourne and Monash universities and has been trying for almost four years to obtain a satisfactory response from the university as to why he was not interviewed for the post.

A short-term lectureship in Melbourne's French department was advertised late in 1991. Dr Freckleton speaks fluent French and was awarded a PhD in linguistics from the University of Paris (along with a BA and LLB from Melbourne and a first-class honours MA from Monash) but was not invited to an interview.

He later learned that a French-born woman with a bachelor degree in arts had been selected and that the selection criteria had been changed after applications for the position were received.

Although the advertisement said the appointee should have native or near-native competence in French, a PhD, tertiary teaching experience and a research record, the selection committee dropped reference to a doctorate to substituted "research promise".

The university has since appointed other, similarly qualified, French-born women to lectureships in the department and the original position has been upgraded to a tenured post. Of the eight staff currently employed, seven are women (four of whom are French) and five were born overseas. The present head of department is the only male and is Australian-born.

Dr Freckleton tutored in the French department at Monash and lectured in linguistics at Melbourne in the late 1970s. He was awarded his PhD in Paris in 1984 and, as well as giving seminars in French to postgraduate students and their lecturers, he also taught English to French executives.

He has been working as a barrister in Melbourne since 1985 but applied for the French lectureship in October 1991. Charles Reichman, a solicitor acting for Dr Freckleton, accused the university of a cover-up and said it had been deliberately evasive when information had been sought.

The main issue, however, was the gross discrimination against his client on the basis of his ethnic origin. It was clear the university preferred to appoint people to its French department who had been born in France, despite some having lesser qualifications than an Australian applicant, Mr Reichman said.

Julian Riekert, a lawyer for the university, disputed the accusations and said the selection committee had rejected Dr Freckleton's application because he did not have recent tertiary teaching or research experience. It had nominated the person best suited to the position from those who had applied, Mr Riekert said.

"It is ironic, and something we believe the commission should take into account, that institutions like Melbourne University - anxious to improve the representation of female staff because of general concern that they have suffered discrimination - should then be accused of discriminating against a male," he said.

The commission is expected to order a compulsory conference of the parties in an attempt to reach a resolution of the dispute.

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