Court of Appeal uses EU directives to outlaw discrimination in university and college work placements.

Court of Appeal uses EU directives to outlaw discrimination in university and college work placements.

23 June 2016


A gap in the legislation relating to discrimination in vocational training placements has been plugged by the court of appeal. In a judgment handed down on 23 June 2016 3 judges found unanimously that legislation relating to discrimination by providers of work experience placements to FE colleges and universities had been drafted so as to exclude any right of remedy to students who suffered discrimination while in placement.


The appellant, Miss Blackwood, was studying mental health nursing at Birmingham City University for which she was required to undertake work placements. At the start of one placement with Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Trust, she explained that she would have difficulty working nightshifts and weekends because of her childcare responsibilities. Her placement as withdrawn as a result. Miss Blackwood submitted a claim for indirect discrimination in the Employment Tribunal. The Respondent argued that the Employment Tribunal had no jurisdiction as the case should have been brought in the County Court. The Employment Tribunal agreed and dismissed the claim, a decision subsequently upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.


The issue before the Court of Appeal was whether the claim fell under Part 5 of the Equality Act 2010, relating to discrimination at work (an employment tribunal claim), or under Part 6, which is concerned with discrimination in education (a county court claim). It was agreed that the Trust was an Employment Service Provider under section 55 of the Act, which prohibits discrimination by Employment Service Providers of vocational training and/or guidance. However, s. 56 (5) of the Act stated that Part 5 of the Act, including s. 55, did not apply to vocational training arranged through the university, the idea apparently being that such case would be dealt with under part 6 of the Act. Unfortunately, as the relevant section in part 6 dealt only with “institutions” and not work place providers, Miss Blackwood would have no remedy there either.


The Court of Appeal accepted the Appellant’s argument that there was a gap in the law, which parliament could not have intended. The Equality 2010 Act was the UK’s implementation of its obligations under EU anti-discrimination legislation to ensure equal opportunities and equal treatment. The Court of Appeal therefore decided that it was possible, in line with the obligation on the English courts, to construe domestic legislation consistently with Community law obligations. This means that students in work placements arranged by their colleges or universities now have the same protection as others receiving vocational training.


Phil Storey, senior solicitor, of Bailey Wright & Co. Solicitors said “Miss Blackwood is understandably pleased that she will now have the opportunity to fight her claim for discrimination. The Court of Appeal decision means that work experience providers for universities and colleges will need to think carefully about how they treat students.


Contact Phil Storey at Bailey Wright & Co. Solicitors on 0121 270 1566 or for further information.