• Samantha Cooper is taking her former employer to the Fair Work Commission after she was fired days after making a racial discrimination complaint. (Supplied)
Samantha Cooper, who was sacked two days after filing a racial discrimination complaint, says she wants to make workplaces safer for those in Indigenous-identified positions.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

11 Jan 2018 - 3:02 PM  UPDATED 11 Jan 2018 - 6:12 PM

A former case manager at the Centre Against Domestic Abuse (CADA) in Queensland's Moreton Bay region, Samantha Cooper made an official complaint in November after a string of alleged racial discrimination incidents.

She claims to have been described as going “walkabout”, told she was “quite pretty for an Aboriginal” and asked if she had ever met a “real” Aboriginal person. The 25-year-old says one manager continually asked what "percentage" Aboriginal she was, and where her Indigenous heritage stemmed from. 

"I constantly felt like I was having to justify things about my identity that she (the manager) would never question about anybody else, and I thought that’s just getting a bit ridiculous – not only having to continually advocate for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families that I was working with, to continually have to advocate for myself. Just to walk in the door was really tiring, and I found myself burning out," Ms Cooper told NITV News. 

She says she had several meetings with her team leader in a bid to address the behaviour, requesting that all staff be advised to exercise cultural sensitivity. When, after six months, the alleged incidents were still occurring, Ms Cooper filed a formal complaint.

She was fired two days later, and will now take her government-funded former employer to the Fair Work Commission.

"I was gutted. I was honestly gob-smacked," she says.

"I thought it cannot be true that somebody is fired for putting in a complaint. And maybe that’s not what happened, but from my perspective, all I can see is that I put in a formal complaint about racism that had been ongoing for six months, and then two days later I was terminated."

A CADA spokesperson told Fairfax that Ms Cooper was on a fixed term contract which couldn't be renewed due to state funding cuts, but failed to produce documentary evidence of those cuts. Ms Cooper told NITV News her contract wasn't due to expire until September 2018. 

Her case will be heard at a Fair Work Commission hearing in Brisbane next month. Ms Cooper says she's sharing her story in a bid to overhaul a "culture of ignorance" within the organisation. 

"A lot of the staff out there are just phenomenal… but there’s just this culture of ignorance," she says.

"In 2017 you would expect more from people than that. And it’s not OK to be culturally aware anymore, people need to be culturally intelligent. 

"I think the most important thing for me is that if somebody else is going to go into that role in that community - and it is necessary that somebody goes out there and works with these Indigenous families because they are so vulnerable – that it is a safe place for them."

'I've had the exact same things said to me'

Since learning about Ms Cooper's story, a handful of Indigenous workers have spoken out about similar experiences of alleged racial discrimination at work. 

Actor and writer Nakkiah Lui, who co-hosts the 'Pretty for an Aboriginal' podcast with Miranda Tapsell, was quick to support Ms Cooper on social media. 

"I've had the exact same things said to me and I bet others have as well!" she wrote. 

Others followed suit by sharing their own personal experiences. In one instance, a dental assistant was told she was "barely even Aboriginal", while another details a recruitment officer being instructed not to hire anyone for an Indigenous position who was too light-skinned. 

Ms Cooper's case is listed for a Fair Work Commission hearing in Brisbane on February 19.

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