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Discrimination decision paves way for justice

Discrimination decision paves way for justice

A disabled woman has won the right to limit her liability to pay legal costs if she loses a discrimination action brought against transport company Murrays Australia.Wheelchair-bound Julia…

A disabled woman has won the right to limit her liability to pay legal costs if she loses a discrimination action brought against transport company Murrays Australia.

Wheelchair-bound Julia Haraksin, represented by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), brought a complaint against the company after she tried to book a seat on a coach from Sydney to Canberra, but was told her booking could not be accepted because she is in a wheelchair.

In a decision which may have ramifications for complainants in similar actions, Justice Nicholas of the Federal Court yesterday (20 October) agreed to cap costs in the matter, attributing his order to "the interests of justice".

"I am satisfied that there is a public interest element in this case. And I am also satisfied that the case is brought by the applicant in good faith," he said.

Under federal disability standards, transport providers are required to ensure that at least 25 per cent of their vehicles are wheelchair-accessible.

Unlike many other discrimination cases, Haraksin is not seeking financial compensation, but is instead seeking a court order directing Murrays to comply with the standards.

Murrays has claimed that modifications would cause the company undue hardship.

Yesterday's decision now means that Haraksin's legal costs will be capped at $25,000, which is $10,000 more than the amount she originally sought.

However, the ruling still sets a strong precedent for other complainants in discrimination cases.

"Without this cost cap, Ms Haraksin would not have been able to proceed with her case," PIAC solicitor Gemma Namey said.

"We believe today's decision removes an inappropriate barrier to this discrimination case."

PIAC secured a similar outcome in a disability discrimination case against Virgin Blue in 2008, when Justice Annabelle Bennett AO ordered that costs be capped for two litigants who successfully challenged Virgin Blue's policy for disabled travellers.

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