Discrimination means treating someone unfairly because of specific personal characteristics. These characteristics are listed in South Australian equal opportunity law and include:

  • age
  • association with a child
  • caring responsibilities
  • disability
  • gender identity
  • intersex status
  • marital or domestic partnership status
  • pregnancy
  • race
  • religious appearance or dress (in work and study)
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • spouse or partner's identity.

Clara is Muslim and expresses her faith by wearing a hijab (headscarf). On her first day at a new state high school, Clara wore her hijab even though the uniform does not include it.

Her teacher took her aside and told her that she needed to put the hijab away during the day but can wear it home, after she leaves the school grounds. Clara explained that she wishes to wear the hijab for religious reasons and feels undressed without it. The teacher gave Clara detention.

This is unlawful discrimination on the ground of religious dress.

Discrimination can also occur when a rule treats everyone the same, but the rule has an unfair effect on some people because of their disability, race, etc. Rules like this are discriminatory if they are unreasonable. Whether a rule is reasonable can, of course, be debated.

A school rule prohibits access to computers during exams. The rule applies to all students, no exceptions. However, Kane, who is vision-impaired, relies on computers to enlarge text to a readable size. This enables him to read and write adequately for school. The no-computers rule is therefore tougher on Kane than other students, because of his disability.

Is the school discriminating if it doesn't let Kane use a computer program that enlarges text for him during the exam? It depends. Kane needs some type of assistance with reading and writing for the exam. It may be reasonable to refuse a computer if equivalent help can be made available in another way, but if not, the rule could be discriminatory.