Equalities minister Harriet Harman's Equality Bill will, if enacted, extend the law on direct discrimination to include discrimination by association and perception to disability, sex, gender reassignment and age in both the employment field and beyond – for example to the provision of goods and services. She made the announcement yesterday.
In essence this will incorporate into the proposed bill, the European Court of Justice's July 2008 ruling in the Coleman v Attridge Law case. Sharon Coleman, a legal secretary with the law firm, lodged a claim after alleging she was subject to harassment and discrimination after asking for time off to care for her disabled son.
The Employment Tribunal referred the case to the ECJ. Its ruling applied to the public sector giving employees who work in it the right to take action on the grounds of discrimination by association.
The proposed legislation will, for example, give carers the right not to be given a hard time because of their association with a disabled person.
Barrister Ed Williams, of Cloisters Chambers, who specialises in discrimination law, said: "This is a significant change in many respects and a major advance in equality law. This gives workers in the private sector protection against direct discrimination on grounds of association or perception in respect of race, sex, gender reassignment, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age.
"This protection was only enjoyed with absolutely certainty by public sector workers who were able to rely directly on the ECJ ruling in Coleman. Consumers will be similarly protected as the Equalities Bill will also outlaw direct discrimination on grounds of perception or association in areas such as goods, facilities and services."
Full details of the bill are yet to be published. According to the Daily Mail, Tory Work and Pensions spokeswoman Theresa May said: "While we welcome any attempt to bring all the reams of equalities legislation under one bill, the delays and false starts over the Equality Bill are getting ridiculous."