Don’t spit the dummy: merit and discrimination in the workplace


A dummy job application was intended to demonstrate discrimination, but backfired on the well-meaning employee. There are better ways to seek remedy if you suspect merit isn’t being used correctly at work.

Having been passed over for promotion time and time again, a long-standing employee of the Australian Taxation Office thought that he was being deliberately over-looked for illegitimate reasons. The aggrieved public servant filed an adverse action claim, alleging racial discrimination. His evidence? He had applied for a position and simultaneously submitted a ‘dummy application’ with identical credentials but a different name. The dummy applicant was short-listed; the real employee was not.

Not only was this claim unsuccessful, but the employee ultimately had his employment terminated. His affidavit outlining the use of the “dummy application”, which he had hoped would be damning proof of discrimination, instead became evidence that he had breached the APS Code of Conduct.

Unsurprisingly, submitting false job applications and making false declarations to your employer are not effective ways to secure a promotion. However, it is not hard to sympathise with someone who felt they were being discriminated against in the workplace and adopted a creative approach to prove it.

In Australia, protections against discrimination are broadly drafted. Generally speaking, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

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  • So why did the dummy application get shortlisted and the real one not?

    That wasn’t addressed in the article and remains a very interesting topic.