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Aimee

Aimee Cooper

Year of Award: 2018 Award State: Victoria Legal > General
To establish best practice for a regulatory framework to create equality through discrimination law - Sweden, UK, USA, Canada
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Reviews of Aimee Cooper’s ‘Bringing Equality Laws to Life’ report:

“Aimee Cooper’s report comparing approaches to anti-discrimination law from Australia, North America and Europe is a valuable resource for law reformers around the globe. Cooper’s experience in the field and thorough research brings an important perspective to the question of how we can best enforce these important rights. The report is highly recommended for anyone who is examining/implementing policy and law reform on the subject, or who simply cares about addressing discrimination more effectively.” - David B. Oppenheimer, Director, Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law

"I have read the report and I honestly think it is one of the best pieces I have read in the field. I am very impressed." - Martin Mörk, Deputy Ombudsman at Sweden's Diskriminerings Ombudsmannen

 

Outline of research:

As an experienced discrimination and sexual harassment lawyer I see the failure of our regulatory framework to effectively prevent or address these harms. One of the key problems is that Australia has not empowered our human rights commissions to enforce the law. Our reliance on individuals to enforce their rights isn’t working and isn’t fair. Most people who experience discrimination and harassment do not make a complaint and when they do it rarely addresses the cause of the problem. Our longstanding laws seek to eliminate discrimination and harassment as far as possible, yet in practice they rarely result in positive changes to our workplaces. One of the most frustrating things about working in this field is knowing how strong the legal protections available to the community are but seeing how rarely they are brought to life. Our laws are meaningless if they are not complied with, relied upon or enforced. 

This Churchill Fellowship enabled me to travel to countries where the burden of enforcement is shared, to investigate what works best in practice and what Australia might do to help bring our equality laws to life. In the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Sweden I learned that the inability of individual complaints to eliminate discrimination and harassment is global. I also learned that Australia is falling behind, and our regulatory framework is now out of step with best practice in addressing this problem. Each country offered a different model of regulatory framework seeking to address this problem, and in each country I discovered how different the operation of that framework was in practice compared to its appearance on paper.  

My report provides a range of recommendations for reform to our regulatory framework in Australia drawing on the performance of these frameworks overseas. My research confirms that a well-resourced and empowered equality body can have a significant impact on compliance with equality laws, and highlights the features our framework should adopt to ensure success. Equality bodies can bring the hidden operation of equality laws to light by insisting on public systemic outcomes rather than confidential individual outcomes. Strong visible enforcement raises awareness about employer’s obligations under the law and the consequences for failing to meet them, which prompts employers to take positive steps towards compliance. Equality bodies can also prompt compliance and protect employees without the need for individuals to come forward and bring a claim, through systemic claims or compliance monitoring. My report also highlights how a positive duty on employers to prevent discrimination and harassment is most likely to have a significant impact if it is coupled with clear procedural duties that guide employers in how to implement it.


Keywords: Equality, Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Regulation, Enforcement, Law Reform, Legal, Justice

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