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University of Sydney accused of racism in federal lawsuit

The suit follows allegations of racial discrimination when former USyd staff Omid Tofighian applied for USyd's National Centre of Cultural Competence.

Sydney University has been accused of racial discrimination in a suit last Friday alleging that racist remarks were made to a former staff member. 

Professor of Philosophy Omid Tofighian is behind the Federal Court lawsuit where he is alleging human rights breaches, according to Miklos Bolza

Tofigian claims that USyd Associate Professor Maurice Peat made racist remarks when Tofighian was applying for an associate lecturer position in the University’s National Centre of Cultural Competence (NCCC).

“Peat said words to the effect that he had worked with Iranians before and they were always like this, they were always too controlling and too directive, and impossible to supervise,” the lawsuit reads. 

Although former NCCC Executive Officer Leanne Kapoor having supported Tofighian’s application, Peat allegedly did not countenance working with Tofighian and the associate lectureship was assigned to another candidate. 

The court documents allege that Sydney University “refused or failed to employ Tofighian” in the position for “reasons including his race, descent or national or ethnic origin”. 

Subsequently, in 2017, Tofighian was appointed senior project officer in the NCCC, however, the court documents alleges that he was at unease during his tenure due to Peat’s remarks: “[Tofighian] was anxious, tense and self-conscious because, on account of Peat’s remarks, he thought it was necessary to avoid being or appearing controlling, overconfident or domineering.”

Tofighian is seeking an apology from the University alongside damages for being refused the associate lectureship, and for distress and humiliation as a result of the episode. 

USyd’s National Centre of Cultural Competence was founded in 2014 as a joint venture between the Federal Government and the University to promote cultural diversity, particularly focusing on Indigenous knowledge and culture.