18 July 2008
Mother of disabled child wins landmark discrimination claim
A former legal secretary who claimed she was forced out of her job because she spent time caring for her disabled son has won a landmark victory in the European court of justice.
Sharon Coleman alleged she had to leave her position at Attridge Law partnership because her employers called her lazy when she sought time off to look after her child, said she was using the boy as an excuse and did not allow her to work flexibly.
She claimed constructive dismissal.
In a new development, European judges have unanimously agreed that Ms Coleman has the right to claim "discrimination by association", meaning that employment discrimination is not limited to disabled people but extends to those with close connections to them.
Her case will now return to a tribunal in London, which will look into the facts.
Ms Coleman's legal battle has been supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which aims to eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality and protect human rights.
Arpita Dutt, employment partner at Russell Jones & Walker, commente: "In due course, parliament will need to legislate to harmonise the provisions in the DDA, sexual orientation regulations religion and belief and age regulations to bring legislation in line with the ETD, particularly as it may not always be possible to construe the legislation purposively. An opportunity to do so will be in the single equality bill.
For claims brought against public bodies, we can rely on the wording of the directive.
What must be borne in mind is that this ruling does not apply to all carers, rather Ms Coleman's son was disabled and therefore the legal definition of 'disability' within the DDA 1995 applied. This ruling will extend to carers of disabled adults/children."