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Coleman ruling confirmed

30 October 2009

The EAT has confirmed that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 can be interpreted to apply to “associative” discrimination, following the decision of the European Court of Justice last year (see 28 November 2008).

Mr Justice Underhill, president of the EAT, rejected an appeal by law firm EBR Attridge, formerly Attridge Law, against an employment tribunal ruling that UK law on discrimination could be read to comply with the ECJ decision.

The law firm argued that Judge Stacey’s ruling had “distorted and rewritten” the 1995 Act by reading in words to outlaw associative discrimination.

Sharon Coleman was a legal secretary at the Attridge Law and principal carer of her disabled son. She claimed unlawful discrimination on account of her son’s disability.

Underhill J said in EBR Attridge v Coleman (UKEAT/00710/09/JOJ) that he agreed with Judge Stacey that there was nothing “impossible” about adding words to the provisions of the 1995 Act to cover associative discrimination.

He went on: “The proscription of associative discrimination is an extension of the scope of the legislation as enacted, but it is in no sense repugnant to it. On the contrary, it is an extension fully in conformity with the aims of the legislation as drafted.”

Rachel Dineley, head of the diversity and discrimination unit at Beachcroft, said: “The president of the EAT went so far as to say that there is nothing ‘impossible’ about adding words to the provisions of the 1995 Act so as to cover associative discrimination, and that the drafting is not of the essence,” she said.

“This is significant, not only in its own right, but as an indication of the broad approach taken by the judiciary in giving effect to the spirit, as well as the letter, of discrimination law, in broad terms. We can expect this to be reflected in the wording of the Equality Bill, due to become law next year.

“This case could, in theory, lead to a significant rise in claims of this kind.”

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Discrimination Local government