Medical practice fined $51,000 over 'appalling' treatment

A LOGANHOLME medical practice has been fined $51,000 for subjecting an Indian trained doctor to treatment which a judge described as "appalling."

The centre, called Windaroo Medical Surgery Pty Ltd, which is located at Loganholme Shopping Village was fined  $39,600 in the Federal Circuit Court for threatening a doctor and trying to coerce him into withdrawing a complaint he made to the Fair Work Ombudsman. 

Company director Dr Sheila Pathmanathan has also been penalised $7920 for her part in the threat and cutting-off the doctor's pay and fellow director Dr Tan Thi Thanh Tran has been fined $3960 for making threats to the doctor.

The Court also ordered Windaroo Medical Surgery and Dr Pathmanathan to jointly pay $24,724 in compensation to the doctor for economic loss and distress suffered.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell says the outcome of the matter sends a message that retaliating against a worker simply for exercising a workplace right is serious conduct that will not be tolerated.

"It is completely unacceptable and unlawful for an organisation to seek retribution because a worker has exercised their legal right to lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Ombudsman," Mr Campbell said.

"We will not hesitate to take enforcement action against any organisation that unlawfully threatens and coerces workers."

The Indian doctor came to Australia in 2009 on a medical practitioner visa to work at Windaroo Medical Surgery, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman and lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman in December that year after a dispute with the company.

Judge Michael Jarrett found that Dr Pathmanathan, Dr Tran and Windaroo breached a coercion provision of the Fair Work Act in February, 2010 by threatening the doctor that he would not be paid unless he withdrew his complaint. 

Judge Jarrett also found that Windaroo and Dr Pathmanathan took unlawful adverse action against the doctor by ceasing payments to him a month later, after he refused to withdraw the complaint.

The doctor resigned in May, 2010 and returned to India with his young family.

Judge Jarrett described the treatment of the doctor as "appalling" and found that it had caused him distress.

Judge Jarrett said Windaroo, Dr Pathmanathan and Dr Tran knew the doctor was in "significant financial difficulty" and that withholding payments from him would "add to his financial distress".

"It was done either in the hope that (the doctor) would relent and withdraw his complaint, or as punishment for not succumbing to the earlier coercion," Judge Jarrett said.

Judge Jarrett described the attempt to coerce the doctor as a gross contravention of the law. 

"It is not difficult to infer that the contravention was designed with the explicit intent of avoiding scrutiny by the regulatory authority.

"The contraventions were clearly a deliberate attempt to deprive (the doctor) of his right to bring a complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman and his right to payments under the contract for services he had with the first respondent."

Judge Jarrett found that there had been "no expressions of regret or remorse" from Windaroo, Dr Pathmanathan and Dr Tran.

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