Legal enforcement case studies

These case studies give a flavour of work undertaken by the Commission since October 2007. They provide an insight into how the Commission is working to make a fairer and more equal Britain through pre-enforcement and enforcement action.

XYZ Church

In late 2008, a same sex couple contacted XYZ church to book its hall, which was available for commercial hire, for a dinner following their civil partnership. The church refused to take the booking on the grounds that the venue could not be used for same sex partnerships. The couple subsequently contacted the Commission about the issue.

As the decision contravened Equality Act regulations, the Commission contacted the church to make them aware of the non-compliance. Once contacted by the Commission, XYZ church quickly moved to amend the venue hire policy to bring it in line with the law.

Supermarket 'L'

A disabled woman contacted the Commission's helpline in Wales to ask for assistance. She alleged that supermarket staff had refused to assist her when she had attempted to use the supermarket's petrol pump.

Following intervention by the Commission, supermarket 'L' apologised to the woman and made a commitment to re-communicate to all stores in the region its policies on adjusting its service for disabled customers.

Formal Actions

Agreements

Abercrombie and Fitch

After productive negotiation, the Commission and Abercrombie and Fitch entered into an informal agreement to help further the Company's diversity efforts in the UK. In addition to increasing its training on diversity and discrimination, Abercrombie and Fitch agrees to review its UK diversity programs and initiatives, already rolled out in the UK, to ensure optimum exposure to diverse candidates and their talents.

Wendy Hewitt, Interim Director of Enforcement at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: 'we very much welcome the opportunity to work with Abercrombie and Fitch and its commitment to take additional measures to maximise the diversity of its workforce. In the Commission's experience there is a sound business case for promoting employee diversity including potential benefits to service delivery and customer satisfaction, even for a highly successful business such as Abercrombie and Fitch.'

Sportsdirect.com

Sportsdirect.com Retail Limited has entered into a formal agreement with the Commission. The retailer will improve its service for disabled customers. It will thoroughly assess its stores in Britain. All staff will be trained to better understand the needs of disabled shoppers. The agreement will be reviewed in June 2013.

'T' Engineering

'T' is a civil engineering company which is part of a large commercial group. The Commission's Investigations and Enforcement Unit began enquiries into the company following an Employment Tribunal case involving sexual harassment of an employee.

The company was extremely keen to work with the Commission to tackle harassment and bullying in particular, but also to improve its approach to equality and diversity more generally. An agreement between the Commission and 'T' was signed in early 2009 detailing the way in which 'T' would deal with equality and diversity in its workplace.

Although the existence of enforcement powers influenced T's decision to work with the Commission, the Commission's staff focused on building a positive, collaborative relationship with the Commission which resulted in the agreement being signed.

Interventions

Secretary of State for Defence v The Queen on the application of Mrs Catherine Smith and HM Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxfordshire and the Equality and Human Rights Commission [2009] EWCA Civ 441

The Commission intervened in the case between the mother of Private Jason Smith, who died in Iraq of hypothermia, and the Ministry of Defence. The Commission argued that armed forces personnel serving overseas are protected by both Article 2 (Right to Life) of the European Convention and the Human Rights Act.

The Court of Appeal held that this protection applies whether or not soldiers are physically on an armed forces base or elsewhere.

As a result of the case, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will have to provide proper protection to soldiers serving overseas and more information to bereaved families. This has important implications for ensuring that the lives of troops are properly safeguarded, for example ensuring they have adequate equipment and medical facilities. It will also mean that future investigations into deaths similar to Jason Smith's will have to be independent, open to scrutiny, and involve the family.

Go to legal updates for more information about the Smith case

Investigations

Royal Mail

In March 2009 the Commission announced that it had ended its formal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of female employees of Royal Mail.

The Commission wrote to Royal Mail Group (RMG) Chief Executive Adam Crozier informing him that the Investigation was ended on condition that RMG provide the Commission with regular updates on how it is working to eliminate harassment, and in particular sexual harassment.

In reaching its decision, the Commission took into account both the effort and resources RMG put into the work on implementing an action plan agreed with the Commission and its predecessor, the Equal Opportunities Commission.

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