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Monday, January 3, 2011

Sacked because I am gay - Aussie trotting veteran Steven Shinn

By Paul Lampathakis -

A MEMBER of one of Australia's most famous horseracing families claims he has been sacked from a senior trotting job because he is gay. 
SACKED: Trotting veteran Steven Shinn claims he was
 sacked from Racing and Gaming WA because he is gay.
Internationally renowned harness racing driver Steven Shinn who won the prestigious Kilmore Cup in 1976 with legendary WA pacer Pure Steel has taken action against Racing and Wagering WA for allegedly unfairly dismissing him in November.
Mr Shinn, whose nephew is Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Blake Shinn, and who is backed by top racing identities such as champion reinsman Chris Lewis, said his problems started within months of being employed in April 2008 as a senior harness racing steward.
He said RWWA chairman of stewards John Zucal had told him,"None of your colleagues want to work with you".
"I asked one of my managers, 'Is this a gay thing?'," said Mr Shinn, whose case is in the Fair Work Australia tribunal and who started as a steward in 1992.
"The manager said, 'Before you arrived here, we heard you were fired in Adelaide because your boss walked in on you naked with your boyfriend', which was a complete lie."
The manager did not deny the conversation occurred, but refused to comment, as did Mr Zucal.
But RWWA human resources general manager Linda Munro said RWWA "would strenuously deny any allegation of discrimination against Mr Shinn", whose role saw him adjudicate at races.
"Mr Shinn's employment was terminated by RWWA following a full and thorough investigation," she said.
In a letter in November, RWWA said he was dismissed for "ongoing performance concerns and unprofessional conduct", and there were concerns about his "integrity", "objectivity and honesty".
But Lewis a recent WA Racing Industry Hall of Fame inductee prominent trainers Ross Olivieri and Mike Reed, star driver Morgan Woodley and driver-trainer Nigel Johns defended him as "one of the fairest stewards", "a man of integrity", "honest", "professional" and "a straight shooter".
They said it was "highly possible" his "disgraceful" sacking was because of his sexuality.
"I do believe that (he was fired because he is gay)," Olivieri said. "The guy is highly respected. I don't know of any other situation where the industry would come out with a petition in support of a steward. They are regarded by many in the industry as the enemy."
The five are among more than 100 trotting figures who have signed a petition calling for RWWA to grant Mr Shinn a further hearing or appeal.
Australia's "pacing priest", Father Brian Glasheen, who has blessed the nation's biggest harness events, last month wrote to Racing and Gaming Minister Terry Waldron, saying "justice does not appear to be done" in Mr Shinn's case, and asking whether "his sexuality" had played a role.
Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor director-general Barry Sargeant wrote back saying the minister had "no legislative authority to intervene" in RWWA operational matters.
Mr Shinn said he had always shied away from publicity, but spoke out after discrimination each time his sexuality became known and being deprived a "fair chance" to defend himself in the inquiry leading to his sacking.
"I never even got a chance to face and cross-examine the witnesses against me," he said. "I believe this has happened because I am gay. I want to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of gay and lesbian people and those from other minorities who daily suffer from both overt and latent discrimination still prevalent in this country."
Mr Shinn said he got a previous written warning in 2009 for minor issues. Then the termination letter alleged that in October 2010 he used "offensive language and intimidating behaviours" towards another employee, failed to follow "procedures and protocol in relation to excluding a horse from a race", and stood down an employee without consulting his direct manager.
Mr Shinn said he stood down the steward by his authority as chair of stewards for the day, because the man who in another work incident told him he would "knock my head off" was "behaving unprofessionally and aggressively".
The decision not to exclude the horse in question from a race was made by a majority vote of stewards, not by him alone.
It is understood barrister Tom Percy QC will represent Mr Shinn pro bono, alongside Stephen Butcher of Perth firm Dwyer Durack.


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