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Defending discrimination claims

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Claims against organisations and businesses by service users and customers for alleged discrimination continue to increase. This may be due to a number of factors. Discrimination is often thought of in the context of employment. However, separate to employment discrimination are civil cases for discrimination. These claims can be raised by the public including all service users. If you are a service provider (including retailers and leisure services providers), operating in the healthcare sector, an education provider, a transport provider, a registered provider, a landlord, housing association, a government or local authority organisation then a claim can be bought against you.

If a person believes that they have been treated unfavourably and unlawfully discriminated against by your business or an employee that works for your business or organisation, they may take action against you. They may raise complaint and even a legal claim against you if they believe that your organisation has treated them unfairly as a result of them holding a characteristic protected by the Equality Act 2010. They may have cause to bring a claim as a result of an action of the business or an employee or often it can be as a result of a business not doing something to reasonably accommodate a service user and their protected characteristic. For example, not providing suitable access for a person with a mobility disability. Cases are frequently brought in such and similar instances where individuals are prevented from engaging in the service provided due to an organisation or business failing to provide reasonable adjustments to their service to assist.

Handling discrimination claims

You may initially receive questions from a service user  who may be trying to understand why the alleged unfavourable treatment occurred. This may then escalate to receipt of a formal complaint, being  asked to attend mediation or arbitration and ultimately, receipt of a letter before claim and court action. Not all complaints and potential claims result in a person sending a letter before claim or taking court action as this can likely be avoided through engagement and action being taken at the enquiry and complaint stages.

Early intervention by a specialist solicitor is crucial. Stephensons, is one of the few firms in the country that has a dedicated discrimination law team handling defence of civil claims. Discrimination claims can cause not only significant financial damage to an organisation, they can also damage a business’ brand and reputation with cases being reported in the media. For these reasons, many claims can be addressed and potentially settled before they go to court but engagement and consideration of settlement if appropriate at a late stage can be extremely costly both financially and otherwise, to an organisation.

If you receive correspondence from potential claimants and it is not addressed immediately, this could be taken into account by the court further down the claims process. You could receive a clarification request, communication or formal complaint at the outset which sets out who in your organisation the claimant believes carried out alleged acts of discrimination. This type of correspondence is likely to outline which of the protected characteristics the claimant holds and details of the unfavourable treatment that they were subjected to. They may ask you to comment on this with your business’ perception of whether this is accurate in your opinion. You may also be asked other questions and receive a request for the disclosure of policies, including the organisation’s equality and diversity policy. Responding in the correct way is crucial and we can assist with this response.  

A person has 6 months less one day from of the alleged act of discrimination to bring a claim in the County Court. This period will continuously run in the event that the alleged acts are ongoing. If you receive a letter before claim or indeed service of a claim form, we have extensive knowledge of and expertise in this area of the law, the practice direction on pre-action conduct and representing clients in defending litigation in the County Courts.

At every stage we can provide guidance and support on what is the best course of action and potential defence for your organisation under a range of fixed fee and hourly charge options.  

For a no obligation, discussion with our specialist discrimination defence solicitors. Call us now on 01616 966 229.

What are the protected characteristics?

  • Age 
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender reassignment
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Disability

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