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Legal cases

We have significant powers to become involved in legal cases that cover equality and human rights. These powers are set out in the Equality Act 2006.

Some of the legal cases we have been involved with are listed below.

January 2019

Smailes v Clewer Court Residents Ltd

Mrs Smailes has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which restricts her mobility. She needed to make adaptations to her home to accommodate her needs, such as moving the kitchen and the bedroom.

Mrs Smailes and her husband own the leasehold for their flat, but a term in the lease prohibited alterations.

When they asked the landlord, Clewer Court Residents Limited, to allow them to do this given their circumstances, they were refused. 

The Smailes’ had to move out of their home and brought a disability discrimination case against the landlord. We funded and supported this case in the County Court.

The court ruled that the landlord should have agreed to let the Smailes carry out the alteration works, which were reasonable in light of her disability.

The court also found that Mrs Smailes was harassed by the landlord at a meeting held to consider the proposed alterations.

Judgment: Smailes v Clewer Court Residents Ltd (Word document download)

Press release: Disabled woman wins court case to make necessary adaptations to her home

June 2018

Smith v Pimlico Plumbers

Mr Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers Ltd as a plumber from August 2005 until April 2011. He did not carry out work for anyone else during this period.

He had a heart attack in 2010 and required adjustments to his work. These were not made. He brought a complaint of disability discrimination.

Pimlico Plumbers argued that the arrangement was a business-to-business relationship. If correct, Mr Smith would have been without protection of the Equality Act 2010. 

The Supreme Court found that Mr Smith’s employment situation fell within the definition of ‘employment’ in the Equality Act and so he should be protected by equality law.

Judgment: Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another (Appellants) v Smith (Respondent)

Press release: Pimlico Plumbers v Smith appeal judgment will help workers in the gig economy

May 2018

Plummer v Royal Herbert Freehold Ltd

We supported this case in the County Court which was brought by Mr Plummer who has multiple sclerosis and who couldn't access the leisure facilities in the apartment block where he rented a flat.  

He requested reasonable adjustments which the property owners Royal Herbert Freehold Ltd rejected.

His main argument was that Royal Herbert Freehold Ltd is a 'service provider', outlined in part 3 of the Equality Act 2010, and failed to make reasonable adjustments. 

Royal Herbert Freehold Ltd was found to be a service provider. As such, they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Judgment: Mr James Plummer v Royal Herbert Freehold Ltd

November 2017

EHRC v Wilson

We brought an injunction (an order) in the County Court against Mr Wilson, a landlord who is considered by some as the largest buy-to-let landlord in Britain. He owns hundreds of properties in Kent. 

One of his requirements for potential tenants was: ‘No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy’.

The judge ordered an injunction, meaning that Mr Wilson is not allowed to have letting criteria which stops people renting his properties because of their race.

Breach of the injunction is contempt of court, punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

Press release: Landlord's policy banning Indian and Pakistani tenants is unlawful, says County Court

October 2017

Al Hijrah School v OFSTED

We intervened in a case at the Court of Appeal involving a voluntary aided faith school for boys and girls aged between four and 16.

The school segregated boys and girls. It argued that segregation was not unlawful sex discrimination because the male and female pupils were receiving separate but equal education.

OFSTED argued that the segregation was not favourable for boys or girls.

The Court of Appeal confirmed that completely segregating girls and boys at a school is unlawful sex discrimination.

It rejected the school's argument that there was no discrimination because the girls and boys were treated the same.

Instead, girls were being discriminated against (because they were not given the opportunity which boys had to mix with boys) and boys were being discriminated against (because they were not given the opportunity which girls had to mix with girls).

Judgment: HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills v The Interim Executive Board of Al-Hijrah School

September 2017

Davey v Oxfordshire County Council

We intervened in this case in the Court of Appeal. 

Mr Davey is a severely disabled man who challenged the council's decision to cut his 24 hour care package.

He argued this would result in his team of care workers losing or deciding to leave their positions. His care workers had been supporting him for 20 years.

Mr Davey lost his appeal.

The Court of Appeal found that Oxfordshire County Council had acted lawfully in reducing Mr Davey’s care package.

Judgement: Luke Davey v Oxfordshire County Council

July 2017

R (on the application of Unison) v Lord Chancellor

The Commission intervened and provided expert legal evidence in this case which found that fees for those bringing Employment Tribunal claims were unlawful. The decision by the Ministry of Justice to introduce fees was judged unlawful under both domestic and European law because it prevents access to justice. Employment Tribunal cases are also important to wider society as they show how people can take action to uphold their employment rights. The fees were also found to be indirectly discriminatory because the higher fees for more complex claims put women at a particular disadvantage, since more women brought such claims.

Press release: Employment tribunal fees are unlawful and discriminatory says Supreme Court 

Judgment: R (on the application of UNISON) v Lord Chancellor

April 2017

R (Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service) v the Lord Chancellor

The Commission intervened in this case which challenged the legality of cuts in legal aid for prisoners. The Court of Appeal  found that prisoners should have access to legal aid to pay for legal representation during pre-tariff reviews by the Parole Board, category A reviews, and decisions on placements within close supervision centres.

Press release: Prisoners will be able to access legal aid for important hearings

Judgment: R (Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service) v the Lord Chancellor

Essop v Home Office UKBA

The Commission joint-funded this case in the Supreme Court with PCS Union, where Mr Essop and others brought their case against the Home Office UK Border Agency (UKBA). Mr Essop, an Immigration Officer, claimed indirect discrimination on grounds of race and age. The Home Office needed employees to pass an exam for promotion. It was discovered that BME candidates and older candidates had lower pass rates than white candidates and younger candidates. The Supreme Court decided that where there is a provision that might be indirectly discriminatory (such as this exam), there is no need for a claimant with a protected characteristic to show why he or she is at a disadvantage. It is enough that he or she is at a disadvantage. So, in this case, Mr Essop did not need to work out why BME candidates and older candidates had lower pass rates.

Judgment: Essop v Home Office UKBA

February 2017

Pimlico Plumbers v Smith

The Commission funded Mr Smith in his case against Pimlico Plumbers. Mr. Smith was an ‘independent contractor’ working exclusively for the company but found he could not claim disability pay when a heart attack ruled him out of work. This was because Pimlico said he was self-employed. The Court of Appeal found that Mr Smith was a worker and so could make a claim for discrimination. This judgment will help workers who are incorrectly described as contractors by the companies they work for. It will help to make sure that companies are no longer able to avoid their duty to provide such workers with support, such as reasonable adjustments.

Press release: Pimlico Plumbers v Smith appeal judgment will help workers in the gig economy 

Judgment: Pimlico Plumbers Limited v Charlie Smith

‘S’ v London Borough of Croydon

The Commission intervened in this case where ‘S’ claimed asylum in the UK. He was placed in adult accommodation which the Council said was safe and appropriate. The Council said it did not have any duty to accommodate S in child appropriate accommodation until he is assessed to be a child. The High Court ruled that age-disputed young people whose circumstances are similar to S’s are accommodated in child appropriate accommodation pending the completion of an age assessment.

Press release: High Court rules young asylum seekers must be housed properly

January 2017

Paulley v First Group

The Commission funded Mr Paulley in his case against First Group. Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user, was prevented from boarding a bus because a child in a buggy was in the disabled space. The Supreme Court found that bus companies must do more to cater for the needs of wheelchair users. This will mean that the driver should take further steps to pressurise a non-wheelchair user into making space for wheelchair users rather than just accepting that a non-wheelchair user cannot move. Bus companies should have clear policies in place and give training to drivers to help them to remove any barriers which wheelchair users face.

Find out more about the Paulley v FirstGroup Plc case

Press release: Wheelchair spaces on buses must be a priority, court rules

Judgment: Paulley v FirstGroup Plc

November 2016

R (Carmichael and Rourke) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and other appeals

The Commission intervened in this case, which involved the bedroom tax. Housing regulation B13 allows limited exceptions to the rule that you are penalised if you have a spare bedroom. The Supreme Court found that the failure to provide an exception to regulation B13 was unlawful in the cases of Rutherford (where there was a need for an overnight carer for the grandchild) and Carmichael (where the claimant could not share a bedroom with her husband because of her disability).

Blog: Bedroom tax: success and failure for disabled people at the Supreme Court

Judgment: R (Carmichael and Rourke) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

January 2016

Moorthy v HMRC

The Upper Tribunal upheld the findings of the First Tier Tax Tribunal that compensation awards for injury to feelings in discrimination claims that relate to the termination of employment are taxable. This decision has clarified the law as prior to this there were conflicting case authorities on the taxable treatment of compensation awards.

Judgement: Moorthy v HMRC

November 2015

Hurley and ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Commission Intervener)

The High Court ruled that the Secretary of State unjustifiably indirectly discriminated against unpaid carers for disabled family members by failing to exempt them from the Benefits Cap. The Court upheld the Commission’s submission that carers’ Article 14 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights had been contravened by not considering the impact on disabled people.

Judgment: Hurley and ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2015] EWHC 3382 (Admin)

May 2015

Howe v JD Wetherspoon

The High Court found that the J D Wetherspoons pub chain discriminated against travellers. A group who had been attending the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain annual conference, some of whom are Irish Travellers, were refused entry into a public house.

Press release: Howe v JD Wetherspoon

March 2015

Akerman-Livingstone v Aster Communities (Commission intervener)

The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeal had been wrong to hold that, in relation to a claim for possession of residential premises, a court should take the same approach to a defence raising an argument of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 Act as to a defence based on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The outcome maintains the distinction in the burden of proof that applies to the respective defences.

Judgment: Akerman-Livingstone v Aster Communities [2015] UKSC 15

See related article: Eviction actions: the importance of considering discrimination

February 2015

Mr and Mrs Chandhok v Ms P Tirkey (Equality and Human Rights Commission intervening)

In this case, the Claimant supplemented her claim of direct race discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 by arguing that her caste was a factor in the way she was perceived by the Respondents.

October 2014

R (J) v Worcestershire County Council (Commission intervener)

This is an important judgment confirming the powers given to local authorities to assist children in need inside and outside of their areas. The decision will help to ensure that assessments by local authorities of children’s needs for services take account of cultural factors affecting Gypsies and Travellers. The case has the potential to assist the many children in need who move between areas for whatever reason – not just children from Gypsy and Traveller communities.

Judgment:  R (J) v Worcestershire County Council [2014] EWCA Civ 1518

July 2014

R (Winder and ors) v Sandwell Borough Council (Commission intervener)

The local authority’s two-year residency requirement for council tax reduction unlawfully indirectly discriminates against women fleeing domestic violence. The Council was in breach of the public sector equality duty.

Judgment: R (Winder and ors) v Sandwell Borough Council [2014] EWHC 2617 (Admin)

June 2014

R (Tracey) v Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Secretary of State for Health (Commission intervener)

Whilst in hospital. Mrs Tracey had a Do Not Attempt Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) notice placed on her notes without her knowledge. The failure to consult Mrs Tracey had breached her human rights. The outcome means that health workers should involve patients in any decision about use of DNACPR notices. There should be convincing reasons if this does not happen and causing distress is not a sufficient reason. The rights of patients to be consulted should be set out in a clear and accessible policy. This should be directed at patients and copies automatically made available to them and their families. 

Judgment: R (Tracey) v Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Secretary of State for Health [2014] EWCA Civ 822

R (T) v Secretary of State for Home Department and anor (Commission intervener)

This case concerned whether a man who wants to be a teacher has to continue to disclose to educators and prospective employers the fact that when he was 11 he was warned by the police in connection with the theft of two bicycles. The Court held that the requirement to disclose all matters recorded on the Police National Computer -  without any filter as to relevance or any other factor - went further than was necessary to accomplish the statutory objective (to enable assessment of suitability for admission to certain occupations or to hold certain types of employment, licenses or permits). It failed to strike a fair balance between T’s rights and the interests of the community. The current legislative scheme was not compatible with T’s rights under Art 8.

Judgment: R (T) v Secretary of State for Home Department and anor [2014] UKSC 35

March 2014

Stott v Thomas Cook Tour Operators Ltd

Mrs Stott was prevented from sitting beside her disabled husband to attend to his needs during a flight. She had to attend to his catheter crouching in the aisle, which caused distress and humiliation. The Supreme Court held reluctantly that compensation for the injury to feelings that occurred in-flight was precluded by the Montreal Convention. However, Lady Hale described the treatment and lack of remedy as ‘disgraceful’.

The Court considered that the Convention should be amended to take account of modern equality laws, and that it is for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to consider other methods of enforcement.  It declined to make a reference to the CJEU stating that the law is clear, but in need of amendment.

Judgment: Stott v Thomas Cook Tourperators Ltd [2014] UKSC 15

P and Q v Surrey County Council and P v Cheshire West and Chester Council (Commission intervener)

P, Q and P have learning disabilities and lack capacity to make decisions about their care and where they live. The case clarified that disabled people cannot be deprived of their liberty in their care placements without proper safeguards, even if their living arrangements are benevolent. As a result, disabled people in vulnerable situations – like P,Q and P - are entitled to regular independent checks, in accordance with Art 5, to ensure the restrictions are in their best interests.

Judgment: P (by his litigation friend the Official Solicitor) v Cheshire West and Cheshire Council and anor; P and Q (by their litigation friend the Official Solicitor) v Surrey County Council [2014] UKSC 19

February 2014

Jessemey v Rowstock Ltd and anor

Mr Jessemey had been given a poor reference by a former employer after lodging a claim for age discrimination. The Court of Appeal clarified that post employment victimisation is prohibited by the Equality Act. Mr Jessemey’s appeal was allowed and his victimisation claim was successful. The decision will mean that all post relationship victimisation will be prohibited, whatever field it arises in (for example, education, services or employment).

Judgment: Jessemey v Rowstock Ltd and anor [2014] EWCA Civ 185

Last updated: 26 Jun 2017