Discrimination cases

A discrimination complaint is a complaint of discrimination under the Discrimination Act 1991.

ACAT can only decide discrimination complaints referred by the ACT Human Rights Commission (the Commission).

If you think you have been discriminated against unlawfully, the first step is to make a complaint to the Commission.

Before you start

Go to the ACT Human Rights Commission first

Before a discrimination case can come to ACAT, it must be considered by the Commission under their complaints process.

The Commission may:

  • gather information to find out if the Discrimination Act 1991 may have been breached
  • try to resolve the complaint by conciliation.

If the complaint is not resolved and is closed by the Commission, the person making the complaint can ask for the complaint to be referred to ACAT.

Conciliation at the Commission

If the complaint is resolved by conciliation at the Commission, the Commission will:

  • help make a written record of the agreement for all parties to sign
  • give a copy of the agreement to both parties and a copy to ACAT.

Register of conciliation agreements and ACAT orders

ACAT keeps a register of conciliation agreements (received from the Commission).

If you are a party to a conciliation agreement, you can ask ACAT for orders to give effect to the agreement. To do this, fill in and lodge an application for interim or other orders form [PDF 56KB] and tell us:

  • the orders that you are asking for
  • the reason you are asking for these orders.

Requesting a referral

You have 60 days after a complaint is closed to ask the ACT Human Rights Commission to refer the complaint to ACAT.

If the Commission receives a request to refer a complaint, they will:

  • refer the matter to ACAT
  • tell the complainant and the person complained about in writing about the referral.

Late referral

In exceptional cases, ACAT may accept a referral later than 60 days. You need to complete and lodge a late application for discrimination commission complaint to be heard form [PDF 104KB].

ACAT may grant the application only if it is satisfied on reasonable grounds that exceptional circumstances prevented the complainant from requesting that the complaint be referred within the 60 day period. ACAT will also ask the person complained about for their view. ACAT may hold a short hearing to decide whether to grant the application.

Commission-initiated referrals

The Commission can refer a matter or complaint to ACAT on its own initiative when it involves an unlawful act under the Discrimination Act 1991.

If the Commission prepares a report in relation to a Commission-initiated discrimination matter, they can refer the matter to ACAT within 60 days after the report has been prepared.

On referral to ACAT, the Commission must give written notice of the the referral to the person complained about. The Commission is the complainant for these types of referrals.

Is there a fee for a referral?

There is no ACAT fee for a referral of a discrimination complaint to ACAT.

Are there any other fees?

No subpoena fees or hearing fees are payable for a discrimination matter.

Will I have to pay costs?

Generally each party bears their own costs. There are some circumstances where costs and expenses may be awarded.

Urgent orders

If you are asking for urgent orders, fill in the application for interim or other orders form [PDF 56KB]. You will need to set out what orders you are requesting and why. It is important that you give as many details as possible when making a request for urgent orders. You can attach an extra page to the form if you need more space.

ACAT will give a copy of your application to any other parties and seek their views. ACAT may then either make the orders in chambers (without a hearing) or schedule the case for a short hearing as soon as possible.

What to expect after a referral is made

When a referral is received, ACAT will write to the parties. We will:

  • tell the parties that a discrimination complaint has been referred and
  • give each party a copy of the discrimination complaint and the referral.

Within 7 days, the parties must fill in and lodgenotice of new contact or representation details form [PDF 67KB]. You must give a copy of this to the other party (or parties) in the case.

Usually, you will then need to attend ACAT for a  directions hearing. Directions will be made to prepare the case for hearing. These directions will set out what the parties are required to do and when. This usually includes collating, preparing and giving (to ACAT and the other party) your supporting documents. Find out how to prepare for the directions hearing [DOC 57KB].

Directions are typically made for one ‘stage’ of preparation, and the matter is scheduled for a further directions hearing to check that stage is completed before directions to do the next stage are made.

Before the first directions hearing, the complainant (applicant) should think about:

  • what actions or facts, either individually or taken together, you say amounts to unlawful discrimination by the respondent
  • what evidence you may need to prove your case, such as letters, emails, file notes. photographs or anything else
  • what orders you will ask ACAT to make.

If you are the respondent, you should think about:

  • what your response is to any allegation of unlawful discrimination
  • what evidence you might need to get, such as letters, emails, file notes, photographs or anything else
  • what orders you will ask ACAT to make.

Do I need a lawyer?

We recommend the parties get legal advice before the first directions hearing. Discrimination law can be complicated.

ACAT staff can provide procedural advice, but cannot give you legal advice.

You can be represented by a lawyer when you come to ACAT, but it is not necessary and generally, ACAT cannot make orders about payment of legal costs. You can also be represented by someone other than a lawyer if that person is authorised. Any authorisation should be provided to ACAT before the person starts to represent you.

Names of the parties

The names of parties to a discrimination matter do not appear on the public hearing list, but are otherwise publicly available.

If you want your name de-identified, you will need to apply for a non-disclosure or non-publication order (see our information about public hearings and confidentiality).

Resolving your case

Even after a referral has been made, it is a good idea to continue to see if an agreement can be reached.

At the first directions hearing, an ACAT Member will discuss if mediation or a conference should be scheduled. You can tell the ACAT Member if you have tried to resolve the matter through conciliation at the Human Rights Commission.

If the case does not resolve, the parties will need to prepare for a hearing. Usually you will be required to provide to ACAT and all parties a copy of your supporting documents.

A final directions hearing will be held about a week prior to a hearing.

Orders ACAT can make

At the hearing ACAT will decide whether unlawful discrimination occurred. The Discrimination Act 1991 sets out protected attributes, the areas or activities in which it is unlawful to discriminate and the exceptions that may apply. The Human Rights Commission Act 2005 sets out the orders ACAT can make.

If ACAT is satisfied that the person complained about engaged in an unlawful act, ACAT can make orders which can include that the respondent:

  • not repeat or continue an unlawful act
  • perform a stated reasonable act to redress any loss or damage suffered by the applicant because of the unlawful act
  • pay to the applicant a stated amount by way of compensation for any loss or damage suffered by the applicant because of the unlawful act.

At the end of the hearing, you will be told if an ACAT Member can deliver a decision immediately, or if the decision will be reserved and given later.

If the decision is reserved, you will be told when it is available. Often decisions are delivered in writing, however, it may be appropriate for ACAT to convene at a later time to deliver the decision verbally. The decision is binding on the parties.


If you think ACAT made an error when it decided the application, you may apply to appeal within 28 days of the decision.

More information

Find out about:

Glossary and terms

Glossary and terms

ACT Civil and Administrative TribunalA tribunal established under the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. It may also be referred to as ACAT or Tribunal.

Adjourn (or adjournment)To suspend or postpone a preliminary conference, mediation or hearing and reschedule it for a future date.

Administrative reviewACAT has jurisdiction to review some administrative decisions made by the ACT Government. Find out about Review of ACT Government decisions.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)Also known as dispute resolution. This is a way of resolving disputes without a formal hearing. It may involve a preliminary conference or mediation. ADR is used to help parties resolve cases by agreement.

AnorMeans ‘and another’. This term is generally used to name parties to proceedings when there is more than one applicant or respondent.

Appeal TribunalA tribunal constituted under section 81 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal 2008 to review a decision of the tribunal (not all ACAT decisions are appealable at ACAT – you may need to go to the Supreme Court).

AppellantThe individual or company that appeals an ACAT decision.

ApplicantThe individual or company that brings a case to ACAT, usually by making an application.

Authorising lawsA law that says an application (including referrals) may be made to ACAT. An authorising law may also set out the powers ACAT has in a case. Also see ‘jurisdiction’.

Calling a witnessA party or their representative will ‘call a witness’ at an ACAT hearing when they ask a witness to give evidence.

CaseAlso known as a matter, dispute, application or referral. Cases come to ACAT when ACAT has jurisdiction (power) to make a decision.

Cross-examinationThe process of asking a witness questions to test or check the evidence that the witness has given to ACAT.

Defined benefitsare the following benefits (see section 33 of the MAI Act):

  1. income replacement benefits;
  2. treatment and care benefits;
  3. quality of life benefits;
  4. death benefits;
  5. funeral benefits.

Deliver a decisionAlso ‘handing down a decision’. This is giving a decision about an ACAT case. It may be done verbally or in writing (or both).

DirectionsInstructions that set out what each party must do (and when), often to prepare a case for hearing.

Directions hearingA short hearing where an ACAT Member or Registrar decides how to manage a case and what needs to be done before a hearing. Find out about directions hearings.

Ex parte orderAn order made by ACAT where one or more parties were not present.

Expert reportA written report from an expert that may be used as evidence.

Expert witnessA person with specialised knowledge based on their training, study or experience. An expert can give evidence at a hearing. Find out more about witness statements.

Final directions hearingSometimes ACAT will hold a final directions hearing prior to the final hearing of an application. The purpose is to make sure the case is ready to go to a hearing and give the parties a chance to ask questions about the hearing process.

Handed upGiving documents to an ACAT Member or Registrar in a hearing.

In chambersWhen ACAT considers something without holding a hearing.

Joined party (joined/joinder)A party who was not originally a party to the dispute but has later been added to the case.

JurisdictionACAT’s authority (power) to deal with, hear and decide applications (cases).

LeaveIf someone asks for leave, they are usually asking for permission to do something.

List (or listing)A schedule (or list) of cases to be heard at ACAT each day.

Listing noticeA letter or written document from ACAT that sets out when a conference, mediation or hearing is scheduled at ACAT.

MAI ActMotor Accident Injuries Act 2019 (ACT).

MediationA private meeting where parties discuss ways to resolve their dispute, with the help of an impartial mediator (who is also an ACAT Member or Registrar). It is held under section 35 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008.

Non-publication and/or non-disclosure orderAlso called a ‘suppression order’. It is an order that requires certain information not to be published or disclosed. It is made under section 39 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. Find out about public hearings and confidentiality.

Notice to partiesA letter sent to the parties in a case that sets out the time, date and location for an ACAT conference, mediation or hearing.

Opening statementUsually means a statement made at the beginning of a hearing to outline the key points in the case. Sometimes parties are asked to give an opening statement at a mediation or preliminary conference.

Originating applicationAn application that starts an ACAT case.

Party or partiesAn individual or company directly involved in an ACAT case, for example an applicant or respondent. Find out how to identify and name parties.

Preliminary conferenceA private meeting where parties discuss ways to resolve their dispute with the help of an ACAT Member or Registrar. See section 33 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. ACAT has different types of preliminary conferences.

RegistryThe administrative section of ACAT that accepts documents lodged by parties, handles enquiries and provides support for case management.

Relevant insurerfor a motor accident, means the insurer under the Motor Accident Injuries Act 2019 (see section 34) of the motor vehicle considered to be at fault for the motor accident in the ACT.

RepresentativeA person who represents or advocates for an individual or company at a conference, mediation or hearing at ACAT. For example, a legal practitioner or an attorney appointed under a general power of attorney.

Reserved decisionWhen an ACAT Member or Registrar reserves a decision (at the end of a hearing), this means they will give their decision later, either verbally or in writing (sometimes both).

RespondentThe party (or parties) against whom orders or relief is sought.

Serve/serviceA person who can give evidence at a hearing. Find out about witness statements.

Short service orderAn order that authorises a shorter time for service (than the time otherwise required).

Significant occupational impact (SOI)Significant impact on an injured person’s ability to undertake employment.

Statement of reasonsA document that explains why ACAT made an order in a case. It sets out the law relied on by an ACAT Member or Registrar and explains how the law was applied to the facts of the case. You can request a written statement of reasons within 14 days after an order is made. Find out about statement of reasons.

StayAn order for a particular action (or decision) to be put on hold or suspended for a period of time.

SubmissionA document that sets out your side of a case or dispute and the relevant law. It is presented to ACAT either in writing, verbally or both. Find out about submissions.

SubpoenaRequires a person to appear at ACAT to give evidence or provide documents (or both). Find out about subpoenas.

Substituted service orderAn order that says how a party is to be served with an application or other documents related to the proceedings. In a civil dispute or a rental dispute, an applicant will need to consider asking for a substituted service order if they do not have a physical address for the respondent. Find out about lodging and serving documents.

WitnessA person who can give evidence at a hearing. Find out about witness statements.