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 government is expected to carry out a short consultation on regulations to amend the Disability Discrimination Act to transpose the decision into domestic law during November. We will add a link to their consultation on this page when it is published.

The Commission will involve key stakeholders in developing our response and publish it here for feedback.

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