Woman with many lovers loses case against Catholic employer

A woman sacked by an Australian Catholic organisation for having too many sexual partners has lost a lawsuit which claimed this was her sexual orientation.

Brisbane-based Centacare fired Susan Bunning in 2013 after finding out about her polyamorous lifestyle, and gave her five weeks salary.

The reasons for the dismissal were gross misconduct and bringing the centre into disrepute.

She worked at the centre from 2007 and had been promoted to clinical practice co-ordinator in 2009.

But her contact details as a “poly-friendly” counsellor were discovered on a website for the “Brisbane Poly Group”.

This is a site for people interested or involved in alternatives to monogamy.

Polyamory is defined as having multiple sexual relationships or partners at the same time, with the consent of all people involved.

Ms Bunning responded to her dismissal by lodging a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

She asserted she had been discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.

The AHRC dismissed her complaint as “misconceived”.

So Ms Bunning took legal action against Centacare, on the grounds of sexual discrimination, as well as alleging there was no valid reason to dismiss her and stating her notice of dismissal was unfair.

In the Federal Circuit Court, Justice Salvatore Vasta dismissed her action on the basis it had no reasonable prospects of success.

He found being polyamorous was “sexual behaviour” and not sexual orientation, which involved something far more than how one behaved sexually.

“Sexual orientation is how one is, rather than how one manifests that state of being,” Justice Vasta said.

He rejected the woman’s argument that “sexual behaviour” was a subset of sexually orientation, saying it could lead to absurd results.

“If the contention of the applicant were correct, many people whose sexual activity might label them as sado-masochists, coprophiliacs or urophiliacs could claim that such is more than mere behaviour; it is in fact their very sexual orientation,” Justice Vasta said.

“If the contention were correct, then the illegal activities of paedophilia and necrophilia may have the protection of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.”

Judge Vasta said Ms Bunning would have to take her common law claim over alleged unreasonable notice of dismissal to the District or Magistrates Court.


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