Popular Darlinghurst nightspot, Palms on Oxford, has been cleared of age discrimination after a prominent sports journalist had a case dismissed in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal (ADT) over an incident in late 2011 which arose when the man – who has a history of taking defamation action – was refused entry to the premises in the belief he was drunk.
Richard Sleeman, a 62-year-old sports journalist who has worked for The Australian, Daily Telegraph and radio stations 2UE and 2GB, had accused Palms on Oxford of leaving him “hurt, humiliated and ridiculed” after a bouncer had told him he couldn’t enter the venue while lined up outside on December 23, 2011 as he looked intoxicated, including being red faced and loud.
“The doorman was four to five metres away and he pointed above the heads of the people and said quite loudly and pointedly, ‘You’re way too drunk, you can’t come in,’” Sleeman told an ADT hearing earlier this year.
“He said, ‘Go away and sober up somewhere else’.
“I quickly came to the conclusion that I was being excluded because I was too old. I simply didn’t fit into the mix of people in the club, and being told I was too drunk was simply his way of excluding me.
“I was horrified that I was being humiliated and ridiculed and having my identity taken away from me in front of a large group of people.”
In its decision, the ADT sided with Palms on Oxford, finding the club did not engage in age discrimination but did fall short of labelling Sleeman’s claim as vexatious, as owners of the Oxford Street bar had alleged.
As part of its evidence, Palms on Oxford tendered statements from older patrons, including from 70-year-old, Victor Naudi, who stated he was a weekly visitor to the bar on weekend nights until 12 months ago when the insertion of a pace-maker meant he could now only manage one night a month at the venue.
“On the evidence, the tribunal finds that there is a more probable or innocent explanation available, namely that the doorman considered Mr Sleeman to be intoxicated and argumentative and that these were reasons for his exclusion in line with the authority provided by the Liquor Act,” the three-member ADT panel found.
Sleeman had also taken separate defamation action against the venue over claims he was defamed by the security guard’s accusations of intoxication.
That case was thrown out of the District Court in June after Judge Helen Gibson ruled that the accusation of drunkenness was not ‘published’ and therefore did not constitute defamation. Gibson also noted in that case that many of the ‘publications’ were in fact made by the plaintiff himself in recounting the story to others. Sleeman had previously vowed to appeal the decision.
The writer and broadcaster has a long history of suing for defamation, having successfully sued The Australian for over $430,000 in 2004 over an article which claimed he had never interviewed Ian Thorpe for a story he wrote. He had also earlier collected a rumoured $300,000 in damages from the ABC after Media Watch host Stuart Littlemore wrongly claimed Sleeman had posed as a grieving relative so as to get on a flight to Hobart after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.
Sleeman had attempted to share his story of alleged discrimination by Palms on Oxford to the then-editor of the Star Observer in early 2012 in what he called a “pre-emptive strike” to “clear my name,” but the Star Observer declined to publish the incident.