In EBR Attridge Law LLP and another v Coleman, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has confirmed that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) can be interpreted so as to protect employees who suffer discrimination by reason of the disability of another person.
This judgment is the latest stage in a long-running case involving a legal secretary, Ms Coleman, who claims that she suffered discrimination on grounds of being the primary carer of her disabled son. The case was previously referred by an employment tribunal to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which ruled that the EU law on disability discrimination – contained in the Equal Treatment Framework Directive (No.2000/78) – does cover discrimination by association with a disabled person.
The case then returned to the tribunal, which found that the DDA could be read in such a way as to give effect to the Directive (as interpreted by the ECJ) without distorting the words of the statute. The EAT has now rejected the employer’s appeal, although its judgment adopts a slightly different approach to the tribunal with regard to the precise way in which the relevant provisions of the DDA should be re-drafted so as to allow for claims of ‘associative’ discrimination. Unless there is a further appeal, Ms Coleman’s claim will now go ahead to be heard by the employment tribunal on its substantive merits.
The EAT’s judgment is important because it clarifies the position under the DDA pending the Equality Bill currently going through the UK parliament. The Bill is drafted so as to make explicit that direct discrimination or harassment based on an association with someone of a particular disability, age or sex is prohibited. (Associative discrimination based on race, religion or belief or sexual orientation is already clearly outlawed under current legislation.)