Strategies for Change

Independent Living Movement Ireland

The Equal Status Act

In last week’s Strategies for Change Session we had Aisling Glynn (Solicitor) come and talk to us about the Equal Status Acts in relation to the Disability Ground.

The Equal Status Acts bans discrimination in certain situations outside of the workplace, including buying products, when using services like transport, banks, public services like hospitals, doctors, post offices or trying to access education – see: A Guide to the Equal Status Acts for more information.

It is illegal to treat a person differently just because of their gender; age; civil status (formerly marital status); sexual orientation; religious belief; race, or they are a parent or pregnant or a carer; or are a member of the traveller community; or be a disabled person. In relation to accommodation it is also illegal to discriminate against someone just because they are on a social welfare payment. So, for example a landlord cannot refuse someone just because they are in receipt of rent allowance.

A person is said to be discriminated against if they are treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated in a similar situation on any of the grounds mentioned above. In the case of disability discrimination the comparison must be made between a disabled individual and another who is not disabled, or between a disabled person with a different impairment.

Aisling talked to us about 2 cases in relation to disability discrimination. The 1st case involved a mother on behalf of her son Peter. She took a claim against the Board of Management of a National School. The claim was in regard to the alleged refusal to allow Peter to bring his stability dog to school to help him walk, he was falling 8 or 9 times a day and the dog would help him to walk independently. At one stage the school offered Peter 2 SNA’s instead of using his dog. The court found that Peter was discriminated against on the ground of disability by failing to provide him with reasonable accommodation as defined in Section 4 of the Equal Status Acts – see link to read more about this story – Discrimination Ward Disability – journal.ie.

Feedback from participants included:
  • The stability dog would improve Peter’s mobility, he would be like his human support  
  • The dog would be a good way for Peter to interact with the other kids
  • The dog would be less of a health and safety risk for Peter while in school 
  • The dog would be well trained and have a license to say that he was a stability dog – the company that trained the dog could come to the school and give a talk about what stability dogs are and how to interact with them
  • Other schools might come for advice about how they settled into Peter using his stability dog
  • Employing 2 SNAs would cost more than a dog

Reasonable accommodations are practical changes which service providers have to make so that disabled people can get, and use, all kinds of services on an equal basis with others. This includes services which are free of cost (for example, a public playground, or social welfare services), as well as services which you pay for. Failing to provide reasonable accommodation for disabled people is discrimination.

However, it is not discrimination if providing reasonable accommodation would create a cost more than a nominal cost to the service provider. It is noteworthy here to say that many reasonable accommodations cost nothing, for example, guiding a visually impaired person through a hospital building or it can also be about keeping background noise such as music playing in a shop to a minimum or just rearranging there stock or furniture. Others cost very little, for example, providing information in large print or having pictorial signs as opposed to written signs.

The 2nd case that Aisling talked about involved a man with an intellectual impairment that wanted to marry his girlfriend (also had an intellectual impairment). This man was prohibited from doing this because he was made a ward of court. It is against the law for wards of courts to marry. His family, and his service believed that the man in question did not have the capacity to understand what marriage was and what it meant to be married. This case is still ongoing – see link to read more about this story – Court of Appeal: High Court’s refusal of wardship adjournment set aside.

If you think you have been discriminated against under the Equal Status Acts, both the Work Place Relations Commission (WRC) and the courts (on appeal) have roles in relation to making claims under the Acts. The (WRC) is an independent, statutory body that comes under the Workplace Relations Act 2015.

All claims (except claims in relation to discriminating clubs or claims under the Intoxicating Liquor Act) must first go through to the WRC. The WRC is like a court and has the power to investigate, judge and decide on equality cases. Equal Status claims are dealt with on appeal by the Circuit Court. The WRC also provides mediation, advisory and conciliation services – see: Equal Status and Employment Equality for more information.

Step 1 to using the WRC

The person making a complaint (complainant) is required to write to the person or organisation who provides the good/service (respondent) within 2 months of the last incident of discrimination explaining their complaint as clearly as you can. This is done by filling out a Notification Form – can be downloaded from this link – Equal Status Complaint Notification.pdf

Step 2 to using the WRC

If you do not get a reply from sending the completed Notification Form to the person or organisation within 1 month, or if you are not happy with the reply, you can then proceed to lodge a complaint with the WRC – online Complaint Form – can be downloaded from this link – Workplace Relations Complaint Form.

Important – You must lodge the completed Complaint Form within 6 months from the date of the discrimination. The 6 month’s time frame can be extended to 12 months by the WRC. If your complaint is made in time and is considered to be valid, an Adjudication Officer from the WRC will be appointed to your case and they will examine your complaint.

Step 3 to using the WRC

The Director of the WRC can, at any stage with the consent of both parties, appoint a Mediation Officer. If a settlement is reached through mediation then the terms of agreement are legally binding.

If either party objects to mediation, or if the mediation does not work, the case will be referred to an Adjudication Officer of the WRC for investigation and decision. If there is a finding in favour of the person making a complaint, compensation of up to €15,000 in total can be ordered. The Adjudication Officer can also order persons to take specified courses of action – such as revising a policy or training employees about equality law.

Important
  • Decisions of the WRC may be appealed to the Circuit Court no later than 42 days from the date of the decision.
  • Mediation agreements or decisions of the WRC which have not been complied with may be enforced through the District Court.

Persons making a complaint may represent themselves or be represented by a lawyer, trade union, community group or other representative. In general, costs are not awarded. Costs in respect of travelling and other expenses (except expenses of representatives) can be awarded where a person obstructs the investigation or appeal.

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