Funeral Company in Court Over Claim of Racial Discrimination
The biggest player in the Australian funeral industry has been accused of racial discrimination over a secret business strategy targeting the lucrative Asian-Australian market.
InvoCare Australia, which owns more than 20 funeral service chains including White Lady, Guardian and Simplicity Funerals, faces a claim in the Federal Magistrates Court from a client manager, Theresa Le.
Ms Le, who is of Vietnamese background, says InvoCare instructed her not to employ Asian staff in the company’s cemetery and crematoriums arm because this might hinder the work of its special ”multicultural unit”.
Court documents show InvoCare employs a special team of consultants, the multicultural unit, to ”market to certain cultural communities”.
The company says the unit was established 15 years ago and exists only to service families from non-English speaking backgrounds where a relationship already exists. But Ms Le said InvoCare had a special deal with the unit that gave it virtually exclusive access to Asian clients and potential clients.
She said the arrangement included an instruction to general staff to stay away from these clients in some circumstances and an unofficial directive to avoid hiring Asian staff because they might impinge on the unit’s territory.
”I tried to employ a consultant who happened to be of Asian background,” Ms Le told the Herald. ”We were ready to go – had her medical check done – but then my boss at the time told me to stop. He didn’t give me an explanation, then finally told me that he’d been told not to employ her because she was Asian. ”Three months later we hired a Westerner to the position.”
In her application Ms Le said the company advised her not to attend social and cultural events within the Asian community.
When she complained about the company’s practices and refused its attempts to move her to the multicultural unit – downgrading her from manager to consultant – Ms Le said senior managers made life difficult for her to force her to leave.
InvoCare strenuously denied Ms Le’s claims, in terms of its business strategies and behaviour towards her. ”[We] strongly believe that we have no case to answer as our business strategies, practices and how we have dealt with Ms Le are entirely appropriate,” said the communications manager, Karl Wolfenden.
”We have established policies and procedures for the handling of complaints such as Ms Le’s. Despite being directed to follow those procedures on numerous occasions, Ms Le chose not to do so. It appears Ms Le has difficulty accepting InvoCare’s legitimate business strategies and how it conducts its businesses to ensure our high customer service standards are maintained.”
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