Ms. Coleman, who was employed in a law firm, gave birth to a disabled child whose condition required specialized care. She was the primary caretaker of the child. Following the termination of her contract of employment she lodged a claim with the Employment Tribunal, alleging that she had been subject to unfair constructive dismissal and had been treated less favorably than other employees because she was the primary caretaker of a disabled child.
Question referred to the CJEU by the national court
Does the prohibition of direct discrimination on the grounds of disability laid down in the EU law applies only to actions taken in respect of an employee who is himself disabled or whether it applies equally to an employee who is not himself disabled but who is treated less favorably by reason of the disability of his child, for whom he is the primary provider of the care required by virtue of the child’s condition?
After recalling that direct discrimination occurs where one person is treated less favorably than another is treated in a comparable situation, the Court stated that it does not follow from the provisions of the EU law that the principle of equal treatment is limited to people who themselves have a disability. On the contrary, all forms of discrimination on grounds of disability must be combated.
Consequently, although certain provisions of the EU law are, by their nature, applicable only to disabled people, the principle of equal treatment must otherwise be interpreted broadly.
The objective - equal treatment - and its effectiveness would be undermined if an employee in the situation of the claimant in the main proceedings could not rely on the prohibition of direct discrimination where it is proven that he has been treated less favorably than another employee in a comparable situation on the grounds of his child’s disability, and this is the case even though that employee is not himself disabled.