Associative Discrimination in employment law

12 June 2014

The Court of Appeal have ruled on the question whether an employer's duty to make reasonable adjustments extends to an employee associated with a disabled person.

We are grateful to Daniel Barnett for the following case summary:

The Court of Appeal upheld the EAT's decision in the case of Hainsworth v Ministry of Defence that the employer’s duty does not extend to employees associated with a disabled person.

The Appellant was a civilian employee of the British armed forces, based in Germany. The Appellant herself was not disabled, but she had a daughter with Down's syndrome. The Appellant requested a compassionate transfer to the UK to enable her daughter to access specialist education and training facilities. Her request was refused. The Appellant brought a claim alleging the refusal amounted to a breach of the obligation to make reasonable adjustments.

Previous case law (Coleman v Attridge Law) had held that claims of associative discrimination can apply to direct discrimination claims. However in Hainsworth, the Court of Appeal held that the wording of the Equality Act 2010 and Article 5 of the Equal Treatment Framework Directive only applies to reasonable adjustments for the assistance of disabled employees or prospective employees, and any attempt to stretch this to cover a disabled person associated with an employee is "doomed to failure".