Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 17:56 UK

Legal ruling win for care mother

Sharon Coleman
Ms Coleman claimed she was described as "lazy" by her employers

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

The European Court of Justice ruled Sharon Coleman suffered discrimination by association over her resignation from her legal secretary role in 2005.

She left Attridge Law in London saying she was denied flexibility to care for her son, who has hearing problems.

The court ruled primary care givers were entitled to equal treatment.

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

All I was ever asking for was an equal playing field with the same flexibility afforded to my colleagues without disabled children
Sharon Coleman

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."

Previously the Advocate-General had agreed that Ms Coleman suffered "discrimination by association".

(This) will leave employers in difficulty when prioritising flexible working between carers of disabled people, and other carers and parents
John Cridland, from the 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".

It found the treatment of Ms Coleman amounted to harassment and discrimination.

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.

She began a claim for constructive dismissal and disability discrimination five months after resigning.

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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