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Key legal principles: examples

Direct Discrimination

Example: services and functions
Staff at a local NHS trust refuse to record a complaint of neglect by Michael, one of their long-term patients, because he is known to have a mental health condition, resulting in hallucinations.  This is direct discrimination based on Michael’s disability.

Example: employment
Natasha, who is the manager of student Support Services, turns down an application to the role of Student Support Officer from Lynda.  Lynda, who is a lesbian, learns that Natasha did this because she knew that some members of her team would be uncomfortable working with a lesbian.  Natasha felt that Lynda’s sexual orientation would prevent her from working professionally with her colleagues and would, therefore, get in the way of her ability to perform the role of Student Support Officer.  This is direct discrimination based on Lynda’s sexual orientation.

Discrimination by association

Example: discrimination by association
William has a child with a disability and his employer has agreed to flexible working hours in order to accommodate his caring responsibilities.  His line manager resents this and treats William poorly as a result.  This is discrimination based on William’s association with his disabled child.

Perception based discrimination:
Example: perception based discrimination
Joe is often teased by his work colleagues for being gay, based on their perception that he is gay.  Joe is not gay.  This is direct discrimination based on a perception of Joe’s sexual orientation.

Example: perception based discrimination
Jackie, a female by birth, visits her local NHS Walk-in centre and asks to see a nurse. The reception staff make a negative comment based on their perception that Jackie has undergone gender reassignment.  This is direct discrimination against Jackie because she was wrongly perceived to have undergone gender reassignment.

Indirect discrimination

Example: indirect discrimination
Scarlett is pregnant and works as a hospital receptionist. The manager is aware that Scarlett is pregnant but still disciplines her for taking too many toilet breaks as the manager would for any other member of staff.  This is indirect discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity.

Example: indirect discrimination (justifiable)
NHS Direct advertises a vacancy in their telephone support team and states applicants must be fluent English speakers.  This could indirectly discriminate against some ethnic groups but would likely be justified given the nature of the job and the emphasis on clear oral communication.

Harassment

Example: Harassment in service delivery
Sarah, a White British council tenant, is making a cup of tea for repair officers, who are inspecting her door locks, when she overhears them telling racially offensive jokes.  This conduct was unwanted by Sarah, who found it offensive and degrading.  Consequently, she could bring a claim of harassment against the council.

Example: Harassment in employment
Michelle and Nikki work for the same university, but in separate departments.  Their colleagues do not know that they are lesbian.  Michelle’s colleagues have often made homophobic comments and some have suggested they disapprove of same sex relationships.  Michelle finds these comments offensive and hostile.  This is harassment based on sexual orientation.

Third Party Harassment

Example: third party harassment
Jonathan, who has a mild learning disability, works as a part-time librarian.  Jonathan mentions to his manager, Julie, that he is unhappy after a library user made offensive remarks based on his disability.  Julie is concerned and decides to monitor the situation.  Within a few days the same person is heard making further offensive comments.  Julie responds by informing them that their comments and behaviour are not acceptable.  Julie follows this up with a letter informing the person of their unacceptable behaviour and stresses that, should it continue, she may consider banning them from using the library’s services.  Julie informs Jonathan of her actions.  Failure to take such reasonable steps and intervene could constitute third party harassment.

Victimisation

Example: Victimisation in services
Laura makes a formal complaint to her local NHS Trust suggesting that she was not consulted on changes to maternity services.  She suggests this is because of her gender.  The complaint is resolved through the Trust’s complaints processes.  However, as a result of making such a complaint Laura is removed from the Trust’s mailing list, meaning she no longer receives information on local services.  This is victimisation.

Example: Victimisation at work
Paul makes a formal complaint to his head of department because he believes he is being discriminated against because of his ethnicity.  Although the complaint is resolved through the organisation’s formal grievance procedures, Paul is subsequently ostracised by his colleagues, including his manager.  This is victimisation.

Discrimination arising from disability

Example: discrimination arising from disability
A disabled person who is a wheelchair user cannot attend a council meeting discussing changes to the local bus service because this has been booked at a venue with no ramps or lifts and is thus inaccessible. The person is treated unfavourably because of their use of the wheelchair, which is connected to their disability. Unless the council can show that what happened is objectively justified, this is likely to be discrimination.

Positive action

Example: meeting different needs
A law firm launches a Senior Issues website in order to improve the service they offer to older people and to develop their reputation as older people’s specialists.  They identify Powers of Attorney, Wills and Equity Release as three key legal issues for this age group and produce a range of relevant resources about these and a number of other issues, which can be downloaded from the site.  In addition, staff have received a great deal of additional training on specific legal issues for older people and also on ‘softer skills’, such as working with bereaved families.

Example: enabling or encouraging people to overcome disadvantage
The Legal Gateway scheme is an initiative set up by the Black Lawyers Directory (BLD) to attract and support more black and minority ethnic people into the profession.  The scheme is targeted at ethnic minority lawyers, trainees, paralegals and students as well as school children and adults considering a career in law.  It provides access to an array of career development opportunities such as mentoring, workshops, work placements and events.

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