Page last updated at 14:20 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 15:20 UK

Legal ruling win for care mother

Sharon Coleman
The case was referred to the European Court of Justice in 2006

A British woman has won a landmark legal ruling which gives carers the same rights against employment discrimination as disabled people.

Sharon Coleman's case led the European Court of Justice to rule primary care givers were entitled to the same treatment as disabled people.

Ms Coleman left her legal secretary job saying she was denied flexibility to care for her disabled son.

Her claims of discrimination will now be heard at an employment tribunal.

Ms Coleman resigned from her job with Attridge Law in London in 2005.

Following the legal clarification from the European Court of Justice, Ms Coleman's case will be heard by an employment tribunal in London, which will ultimately give the verdict on her case.

This is a very significant case, which has led to new rights for Britain's millions of carers, 60% of whom are women
John Wadham, legal director of Equality and Human Rights Commission

Ms Coleman said: "All I was ever asking for was an equal playing field with the same flexibility afforded to my colleagues without disabled children.

"This has been a long, hard battle and it is not over yet, but I am thrilled that the European Court has ruled in my favour. This decision will mean so much to so many people."

Her solicitor Lucy McLynn said: "It is a great victory for common sense and for legal clarity, as well as for Sharon personally.

"We will now be looking to the London South Tribunal to read the UK's Disability Discrimination Act in line with this judgment at the next hearing, which we expect to be later this year."

The legal director of Equality and Human Rights Commission, John Wadham, said: "This is a very significant case, which has led to new rights for Britain's millions of carers, 60% of whom are women.

"The commission took the view that people in Sharon's situation should not be left unprotected at work and this decision by the European judges has confirmed that."

[This] will leave employers in difficulty when prioritising flexible working between carers of disabled people, and other carers and parents
John Cridland, Confederation of British Industry

In its ruling the European court said the prohibition of direct discrimination "is not limited only to people who are disabled".

Ms Coleman claimed her former employers described her as "lazy" for wanting time off to care for her son Oliver, who was born in 2002.

Oliver suffers from hearing problems and serious respiratory problems, including apnoeic attacks - an involuntary halt to breathing.

She also said she was forced to take voluntary redundancy because she was not allowed as much flexibility in her work as parents of other children.

Ms Coleman began a claim for constructive dismissal and disability discrimination five months after resigning. Her former employers deny her claims.

John Cridland, from the Confederation of British Industry, said: "This appears to be a significant new employment right for the carers of the disabled, and will leave employers in difficulty when prioritising flexible working between carers of disabled people, and other carers and parents."




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