We tend to think of discrimination as an individual's cause of action. The recent case of EAD Solicitors v Abrams  reminds us that this is not always the case. Companies can also bring claims for discrimination under the Equality Act.
In the Abrams case the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) was asked to rule on the question of whether a limited company can bring a claim that it has been directly discriminated against where it suffers detrimental treatment because of the protected characteristic of someone with whom it is associated.
The EAT's answer is that a limited company can bring such a claim.
In a concise judgment, Mr Justice Langstaff gave his view that the anti-discrimination law is always likely to be focused upon an individual and his/her reaction to the insult of discrimination. However, the wording of the Equality Act does not restrict potential claimants to individuals alone and there are policy reasons why companies require protection from discrimination.
Examples which Mr Justice Langstaff gave of circumstances in which a company may be able to claim protection included: "a company being shunned commercially because it is seen to employ a Jewish or ethnic workforce; a company that loses a contract or suffers a detriment because of pursuing an avowedly Roman Catholic ethic; one that suffered treatment because of its financial support for the Conservative Party or, say, for Islamic education; or one that was deliberately not favoured because it offered employment opportunities to those who had specific disabilities that were unattractive to some would-be contractors or because, let us suppose, of the openly gay stance of a chief executive."
Companies should take care before allowing an individual's protected characteristic to affect a business decision which they make in relation to another company, such as whether to continue to use the services of that company.
Companies will need to show that they have suffered financial loss as a result of discrimination, since companies are unlikely to be able to claim for injury to feelings.
It is interesting to consider the law in this area alongside "conflict of rights" cases such as those brought against small businesses in the UK, the United States and Ireland involving Christian business owners who have refused to provide services which they argue are against their religious beliefs. High profile cases include a bakery in Northern Ireland which is currently appealing against a finding that it discriminated against a customer by refusing to make a cake with a slogan in support of gay marriage on it.
Although companies in conflicts of rights cases are unlikely to have a cause of action against their prospective customers, they may have a cause of action against other companies if they lose business as a result of their publicised beliefs.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.