VIRGIN BLUE Australia: Case Study Analysis


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No. of Words: 1000+






Old Fashioned Baggage


Whether you can be overlooked for a job because you are not young and beautiful is at the heart of a case being heard by the Queensland Anti Discrimination Tribunal. Eight women claimed Virgin Blue had unlawfully discriminated against them on the grounds of their age in 2002. They sought damages for lost earnings. The women, who were all aged over 35 and had worked with another airline as flight attendants, were eliminated during the employee selection process. Virgin Blue claimed they had been rejected after being assessed for teamwork and communication skills, assertiveness and ‘Virgin flair.’ The women’s counsel claimed that in the two years after the company’s inception in 2000, only two women over 35 had been employed. The company denied the women’s rejection had anything to do with age but was because the women did not display the competencies required for employment with them. But while the case remains with the Ant-Discrimination Tribunal, academics warn this will not be the last of its kind unless a huge shift in employer and cultural attitudes occurs and occurs quickly. Australia’s Population is ageing, in 40 years, more than one in four Australians will be aged over 65. Director at the University of Queensland’s Australasian Centre on Ageing Professor Helen Bartlett says society still suffers from an in built prejudice against ageing. ‘No matter how much it is denied, society still  harbor’s this notion that ageing is something to be fought, that to become older is to become decrepit and unattractive,’ Bartlett says. ‘Older people are either presented in the media as falling apart or acting young – abseiling or competing in extreme sport and neither is particularly accurate or particularly healthy. I am a bit optimistic, though, because with the baby boomer generation has come a small shift in attitude. It seems they are a little more conscious of healthy ageing than previous generations, so there is hope’. Bartlett says industries that favour younger people may be forced to change. ‘It’s very simple, really,’ she says. ‘Industries like these that have shown a preference for young staff are going to find it harder to fill positions. They will simply have to employ older women because soon there will not be enough younger applicants’. Director of the University of Queensland’s Centre for Women, Gender, Culture and Social Change Associate Professor Carole Ferrier says the prevalence of judgment of a woman’s physical appearance was most obvious in professions with a public face. “The bigger issue is how much particular occupations are sexualized,’ Ferrier says. ‘What need to be considered is how relevant gender is and what part conventional notions of physical attractiveness plays in employment’. Bartlett says in cases such as the action against Virgin, issues of sexism overly those of ageism. Ferrier points out that some airlines employ older women as flight attendants, just as some bars employ older bar staff. ‘But for a large part, old fashioned thinking still prevails,’ she said ‘Men are still thought of as the traditional breadwinner, the manager and the pilot. Women are still the support, the decoration in the traditional model. ‘And no matter how much is denied, women’s work still features a component of sexualisation. Women in the workforce are still subjected to sexual violence as part of a long chain of differential treatment’. ‘No business is going to put in writing that they want, say slim and attractive women on their staff, but in practice, this is often what they are seeking. In practice, it is hard to argue that a women aged 35-40 couldn’t do the same job as or better that a younger woman’. Regardless of the outcomes of the women’s action against Virgin Blue, there seems little doubt ageism is on the rise. McDonald, who recently completed a study for the Queensland Working Women’s Services on discrimination, found that over three years, the service received 337 reports of age-based discrimination. Of these, 66 percent were reported by women older than 45 and a third were younger. Bartlett says there is a danger in any workplace or social group limiting itself to one demographic. ‘One of the biggest things that feed this prejudice against ageing is separating out the groups. This polarizes people of different ages and it is not a good way to promote harmony’, she says. ‘In an ideal world we should aim for a society and a social landscape that embraces all ages.’




  1. What might have been some of the ultimately unsuccessful arguments of Virgin Blue in their defense of the discrimination complaint? In your opinion can Virgin Blue justify its action? How? Explain in detail using examples. (5 Marks)
  2. Why might it be important for an organisation such as Virgin Blue to be mindful of equal employment opportunity issues in their recruitment and selection process? Explain in detail using examples. (10 Marks)
  3. Equal employment opportunity is just a legalized discrimination’. Critically discuss this statement using appropriate examples. (5 Marks)
  4. In your opinion what strategies can organizations implement to avoid issues related to age based discrimination? (5 Marks)