The Coleman case

Coleman v Attridge Law & Steve Law -The decision and its impact

Facts of the case

Sharon Coleman's son Oliver was born with a rare condition affecting his breathing and also has a hearing impairment. Ms Coleman brought a case claiming she was forced to resign from her job as a legal secretary after, she claims, being harassed by her employers and being refused flexible working which other employees were granted. Ms Coleman's case is that she was targeted because she has a child with a disability, and was denied flexible work arrangements offered to her colleagues without disabled children.

Since Ms Coleman's case relied on the application of European law (European Employment Framework Directive 2000/78/EC) to the Disability Discrimination Act, before deciding on the facts of her claim, the Employment Tribunal first asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to determine whether the Directive protects employees who are treated less favourably or harassed because of their association with a disabled person. In July 2008, the ECJ ruled that disability discrimination by association is unlawful in the workplace.

Ms Coleman's case went back to the Employment Tribunal on 30 September 2008 to decide whether the DDA as it is currently written covers associative discrimination or whether UK law will have to be amended to make it compliant with the Directive. The Tribunal's decision is expected soon.


Ms Coleman's victory before the European Court of Justice has ensured that the UK's disability discrimination law provides protection on the grounds of someone's association (including caring responsibilities) with a disabled person.

Next steps

The Equality Bill provides the Government with a legislative vehicle to clarify the issue of 'association' in domestic law.

The explanatory note 71 to the Bill states that:

‘this definition (of direct discrimination) is broad enough to cover cases where the less favourable treatment is because of the victim’s association with someone who has that characteristic or because the victim is wrongly thought to have it.’

Last Updated: 09 Sep 2015

Last updated: 08 Jun 2016