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Discrimination by association

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Associative discrimination arises when someone is treated unfavourably on the basis of another’s protected characteristic.

Following the landmark case of Coleman v EBR Attridge Law (2008), the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that a person can be discriminated against by their association to another individual with a protected characteristic, for example a disability.

In this case the claimant was found to have been directly discriminated against and harassed by her employer because of her son’s disability, when she herself was not disabled.

This precedent saw a shift in discrimination law and a duty placed upon employers to accommodate the circumstances of their employees.

Along with many other new arrivals, the principle of discrimination by association was encompassed into UK law by the Equality Act of 2010.

Further clarification of this principle came in 2014 with the case of Hainsworth v Ministry of Defence. This case was heard in the Court of Appeal and considered whether an employer had a duty to make reasonable adjustments for an employee with a disabled child.

In this case the court held that as a principle, discrimination by association could not apply to the duty to make reasonable adjustments under Section 20 of the Equality Act. Therefore, employers only had a duty to make these adjustments for employees who themselves had a disability.

Further to this, as an aside, the Court ruled that claims for discrimination by association could only be applied to cases which involve direct discrimination and/or harassment.

This aspect of discrimination law however does still remain complex and cases involving this are relatively rare.

The standard limitations concerning discrimination claims still apply to this area, these being;

  • six months in which to bring a civil claim in the County Court, and;
  • three months regarding any act of discrimination in an employment setting.

If you require any further advice regarding discrimination, please contact our department on 01616 966 229.

By Kieran Alker, employment and discrimination adviser .