Man takes Coles to court for refusing to use his grocery bag

A SYDNEY man took supermarket giant Coles to court for discrimination after it allegedly refused to use his plastic bags to pack his groceries.

Lance Tyrell, 64, had obtained the single-use grey plastic bags from his local Coles at Greenacre in Sydney's southwest where he had shopped for many years.

According to the Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Mr Tyrell kept many of the bags that he obtained each time he shopped which he washed after use.

 

Coles new plastic bags Pic: John Grainger
Coles new plastic bags Pic: John Grainger

However, a little over a year ago the store changed its policy in relation to bags with the single-use ones phased out in place of a larger reusable variety with Coles also applying a 15c charge.

 

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Instead of buying a new reusable bag, the Tribunal heard Mr Tyrell, who uses a walking stick, decided to instead use some of the many grey plastic bags he had collected as they were easy to carry and did not "flop around" his legs.

But Mr Tyrrell said Coles staff refused to pack them, allegedly because they were not clean.

 

Shoppers at Coles Picture: Justin Lloyd.
Shoppers at Coles Picture: Justin Lloyd.

Unhappy with the refusal, Mr Tyrrell lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board, alleging discrimination on the grounds of age and disability.

He said the refusal by staff to pack his bags represented discrimination as he was unable to access the store's home delivery service.

Mr Tyrell said the service was only available via the Coles website, which he does not know how to access or use.

"I feel like I'm being discriminated against because people of other ages and races and everything else are using other bags and they're dirty or broken but the staff are still filling their bags for them," he said.

With the complaint unable to be resolved via conciliation, the matter was referred to the Tribunal where Mr Tyrell tendered a selection of bags to demonstrate their cleanliness.

A witness also provided a Statutory Declaration in support of Mr Tyrell, describing the bags as not only clean, but smelling of lavender.

"He washes them each time he uses them," he said.

According to Coles Greenacre store manager Eliaz Housil, staff had initially refused to pack

Mr Tyrrell's bags as they were "dirty and wrinkled up".

 

Coles new plastic bags are bigger than the single-use grey ones Picture Glenn Hampson
Coles new plastic bags are bigger than the single-use grey ones Picture Glenn Hampson

But after Mr Tyrrell showed a letter that he had sent to Coles head office about his bags, staff proceeded to pack the bags, the Tribunal heard.

In a statement, Mr Housil said "from 1 January, my team has always packed for Lance".

In a letter tendered by Coles to the Anti-Discrimination Board, the supermarket giant noted its bag rules which stated that they must be "in a clean state".

"For health and safety of you and our Coles team members, checkout operators will not pack bags that are excessively dirty," it said.

In ruling in favour of Coles, the Tribunal said it did acknowledge Mr Tyrrell had a disability and that "at least on some of these occasions" the bags presented to supermarket staff were clean.

 

Some of Coles old single-use bags
Some of Coles old single-use bags

However, his discrimination claim could not be upheld because Coles did not have an actual

"requirement or condition" that staff would not pack Mr Tyrrell's small grey bags under any circumstances, "including whether or not they were clean or undamaged".

Also, Mr Tyrrell was advised that if he telephoned Coles head office, they would confirm to the staff that this was the case.

"We are not satisfied that the acts of individual staff members at Coles Greenacre where they have refused to pack his grey plastic bags for reasons other than the state of cleanliness or repair of the bags was done with the authorisation, either express or by implication, of Coles," the Tribunal ruled.

In dismissing Mr Tyrrell's discrimination claim, the Tribunal said it was not satisfied that a substantially higher proportion of shoppers who did not have Mr Tyrrell's disability were able to comply with the requirement that they present with a bag other than the small grey bags.

"We are not satisfied that there is a requirement or condition imposed by Coles that Mr Tyrrell has to present with bags other than the small grey bags in order to have his groceries packed by staff," it said.

"We are not satisfied that even if this requirement or condition was in existence at Coles or is still in existence at Coles Greenacre, that Mr Tyrrell is unable to comply with such requirement or condition."



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