Employee successfully claims discrimination by association
In the well-publicised case of Coleman v Attridge Law, the ECJ ruled that it is not necessary for an employee to be disabled to bring a direct disability discrimination claim: the claim can be based on someone else’s disability. The Equality Act 2010 then extended the protection against discrimination by association to all protected characteristics (apart from marriage and civil partnership). Bainbridge v Atlas Ward Structures Limited is a recent example of a successful claim of associative disability discrimination.
Atlas employed Mr Bainbridge as a welder on a three-month fixed term contract. The company frequently used fixed term contracts as a way of managing their labour requirements and employed about 12 other welders on the same basis.
After Mr Bainbridge had completed several consecutive fixed-term contracts, Atlas decided that they no longer needed one of their welders. Their HR representative informed Mr Bainbridge that his current contract would not be renewed and his employment was therefore finishing.
Mr Bainbridge appealed against the decision not to renew his contract, complaining that Atlas had selected him ahead of his colleagues due to his wife’s disability. He suspected the reason for his selection was that he sometimes took time off at short notice to care for her. Mr Bainbridge raised a claim for disability discrimination after his appeal was unsuccessful.
The Employment Tribunal held that causation was the key issue in the case. It found that Mr Bainbridge was generally well-regarded as a worker and his attendance (save for the periods of leave to care for his wife) was good. From this, and in the absence of any other reason, it concluded that Atlas had selected Mr Bainbridge because of his wife’s disability. Specifically, Atlas aimed to escape the potential future inconvenience of him taking leave at short notice. The Tribunal awarded Mr Bainbridge £10,500 compensation and made a recommendation that Atlas offer him a return to work.
This case is interesting as it shows one of the aims of the Equality Act – to allow a wider interpretation of anti-discrimination provisions compared to previous legislation – is working. It also serves as a reminder to employers that discrimination claims can arise even if the employee in question does not have a protected characteristic, but is connected to someone else who does.
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