A 78-year-old woman has lost her lawsuit against Jetstar over the airline's refusal to allow her on a flight between Adelaide and Brisbane because she was confined to a wheelchair.
Sheila King now faces significant financial hardship after being ordered to pay a substantial part of the airline's legal costs.
Mrs King booked her flight over the internet in August 2008 but was contacted the next day and told she would not be able to fly on that day because there were already two passengers requiring wheelchair assistance booked on the flight.
She was told Jetstar had a policy of only allowing a maximum of two wheelchair-reliant passengers on any flight.
She took the low-budget airline to the Federal Court, claiming it discriminated against her by treating her less favourably than a passenger who did not have a disability.
However, Federal Court Judge Alan Robertson found that Mrs King failed to select "wheelchairs" under a special section on the website.
He also found that the airline offered her another flight on the same route, but Mrs King refused.
"In my view Jetstar did not discriminate against Mrs King, being a person with a disability because of the fact that she ... possessed a wheelchair," Justice Robertson said.
Mrs King has had post-polio syndrome since childhood and has been in a wheelchair since 2008 after a car accident that resulted in three crushed vertebrae and three broken ribs.
She has been ordered to pay the legal costs of the airline, although this figure has been capped at $20,000 because the case was deemed to be in the public interest.
Joanna Shulman, CEO of Redfern Legal Centre, who advised Mrs King during her legal battle, said today's ruling demonstrated that Australia's discrimination laws were not strong enough to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
"The laws do not achieve equality of access to transport for people with a disability," Ms Shulman said.
"Access to transport is vital for people with a disability. Limitations on access to transport can affect a person's ability to work, access health services, spend time with family or enjoy travel. Urgent reform is therefore needed to ensure equal access is achieved."
"The Federal Government is currently reviewing Australia's discrimination laws. Mrs King's experience demonstrates that these laws need to be strengthened in order to ensure that service providers cannot discriminate on the grounds of disability."
Friday, January 13, 2012
Sydney Morning Herald in Australia:
Posted by BA Haller at 2:55 PM