Protection against discrimination also applies to workers associated with persons with disabilities (Agence Europe)
Brussels, 17/07/2008 (Agence Europe) - It is illegal to discriminate against anyone at work because of disability, even if it is not directly the disabled person who is discriminated against, the Court of Justice ruled on Thursday 17 July 2008 (Case C-303/06). The British court which referred the case should now apply the relevant legislation on non-discrimination to the case of Ms Coleman, who considers she had been dismissed from her job due to her son's disabilities.
Ms Coleman had been working in a law firm in London since January 2001 as a legal assistant. In 2002, she gave birth to a child who suffers from fits of apnea as well as severe congenital laryngomalacia and bronchomalacia. The state of the child called for specialised treatment administered for the most part by the mother. On 4 March 2005, Ms Coleman agreed to voluntary redundancy but referred the matter to the British court in August that same year against her former employer for discrimination and implicit dismissal. She above all evoked her employer's refusal to take her back at work after the period of maternity leave, the refusal to grant her more flexible working hours and inappropriate and insulting comments against both herself and her child.
The European Court, although not taking a position on the substance of the case, states in its ruling that â€śwhere it is established that an employee in a situation such as that in the present case suffers direct discrimination on grounds of disability, an interpretation of Directive 2000/78 limiting its application only to people who are themselves disabled is liable to deprive that directive of an important element of its effectiveness and to reduce the protection which it is intended to guaranteeâ€ť. The ruling adds that, while Ms Coleman establishes the facts entailing a presumption of discrimination, the burden of proof is up to the employer.
The association of social NGOs in Brussels, the Social Platform, is â€śpleased with the Court's decisionâ€ť, according to its director, Roshan Di Puppo. â€śWe now expect the Council to take the decision into account by ensuring that the forthcoming directive on equal treatment outside employment also protects against the 'discrimination by association' that the case has highlightedâ€ť, she added. She was referring to a proposal for a directive that accompanies the renewed social agenda for the 21st century adopted by the Commission in early July. The so-called â€śhorizontalâ€ť directive proposed aims to ensure protection against discrimination outside the place of work that is comparable to conditions already applicable to the workplace. (C.D./transl.jl)