Coleman tribunal ruling extends ‘associative discrimination’ rights to private sector

Private sector carers will now be afforded the same rights as those in the public sector following a landmark employment tribunal ruling today.

The ruling Coleman v Attridge Law will enable private sector carers to make a claim under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) for discrimination against them on account of their caring duties for a disabled person.

Under an EU Directive, only public sector carers previously had this right.

The ruling found: “The DDA can be interpreted so as to apply to ‘associative’ discrimination.”

But Rachel Dineley, employment partner at law firm Beachcroft, told Personnel Today the ruling could now be applied to all strands of discrimination legislation.

She said: “Employers must ensure they don’t consciously and inadvertently treat people less favourably as a result of their association with someone who has a protected characteristic.”

Jo Stubbs, XpertHR employment law editor, added while recent legislation on sexual orientation and religion and belief regulations had included associative discrimination, this was not the case for age regulations.

She said: “There is now potential for an individual to claim that they were directly discriminated against or harassed on grounds of, for example, the age of their spouse or partner.”

Sharon Coleman took her employer, Attridge Law, to an employment tribunal in 2005 claiming constructive dismissal and disability discrimination after she felt the company had unlawfully discriminated against her because of her caring duties for her disabled son.

The case was referred to the European Court of Justice in 2007, which ruled in July that the EU’s anti-discrimination laws also covered disabled people’s carers. Public sector workers with caring duties were able to rely on the EU directive immediately but private sector workers were not covered.

In November 2008, an employment tribunal ruled that the DDA could provide protection for carers, but Attridge Law appealed the decision earlier this year.

Today, Justice Underhill, the president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, dismissed the appeal, affording all private sector carers protection from disability discrimination.

Dineley said the ruling would have most bearing on formal and informal flexible working requests, but added it was not just restricted to carers.

She said the ruling would provide protection for anyone with “an association” to someone with a protected characteristic, until the Equality Bill comes into effect next year.

Clause 13 of the Equality Bill will provide specific protection for those associated with people with protected characteristics.

Coleman’s case will now return to an employment tribunal.

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