The Equal Status Act, 2000

The Equal Status Act was signed into Irish law in October 2000 as a complement to the Employment Equality Act, 1998. It moves the concept of discrimination beyond the workforce and into the public arena where people shop, use services, socialise, attend educational establishments or obtain accommodation. It promotes equality and prohibits certain kinds of discrimination, sexual harassment and harassment on discriminatory grounds. Discrimination is given a broader definition than in the Employment Equality Act and includes direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and discrimination by association and by imputation.

The Act outlaws discrimination on nine grounds – gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community.

Sexual Harassment and Harassment

The Act prohibits sexual harassment and harassment on any of the above nine grounds, of those using goods or services provided by the harasser and of students at an educational establishment where the harasser is in a position of authority. Sexual harassment is defined as acts with a sexual connotation that are unwelcome and which could reasonably be regarded as offensive, humiliating or intimidating to the victim.

Disability – Reasonable Accommodation

Any person selling goods or providing a service, accommodation, running a club or educational establishment is under an obligation to do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability. However this obligation is limited to providing special treatment or facilities where the provision of such facilities would cost more than a “nominal” cost.

Goods and Services

The Act prohibits the discrimination in the provision of goods and services to the public even where such goods and services are free. There is a very broad definition for goods which ranges from inexpensive children’s toys to top of the range motor vehicles. A service can be any kind of service and the Act includes:

* Banking, insurance, grants, loans, credits or financing
* Entertainment, recreation or refreshment
* Clubs
* Cultural activities
* Transport or travel
* Professional trade or services

The Act also provides certain exemptions which include cosmetic services, insurance, religious goods and services, sporting events, privacy, promotion of special interests, adoption and fostering, drama and entertainment, will/gifts and special needs.

Accommodation

The Act prohibits discrimination in relation to disposing of an estate and tenancy agreements. It does however, provide exemptions in relation to “small premises” and also where the matter concerns gender/embarrassment, accommodation for religious purposes, refugees, nursing homes, retirement homes, homes for people with disabilities and hostels for homeless people. Local authorities are also permitted to provide different treatment based on family size, family status, marital status, age and membership of the travelling community.

Educational Establishments

Educational establishments are prohibited from discriminating in relation to admissions, access, terms or conditions, expulsion or other sanctions. Again there are exceptions in relation to single sex schools, religious training, the ethos of the school, non-EU nationals, scholarships, student exchanges, mature students, sporting facilities and students with disabilities.

In October 2001 in its first annual report since the Equal Status Act came into operation the Equality Authority (which was set up by the Employment Equality Act, 1998 but deals with complaints under both Acts) said it had a case load of over 500 cases in relation to complaints under the Equal Status Act. This was far more than originally anticipated and mainly related to complaints about the provision of services. Among the more interesting complaints was a complaint that the insurance industry discriminates against young male drivers by charging higher premiums but this was unsuccessful. In addition an Equality Officer caused controversy amongst publicans by ruling that they could not ban children from the pub after a certain hour. Recently a well known and “trendy” pub in Dublin city centre had to pay €1,000 compensation to an elderly man who was turned away at the door because the doorman said he was not a regular. This was seen as discrimination on the grounds of age.

Anybody who wishes to make a claim of discrimination must notify the person against whom the complaint is being made in writing within two months of the incident or last occurrence. They should identify the nature of the claim and the intent to seek redress. If the reply is unsatisfactory the complainant can then refer the matter to the Director of Equality Investigations. This should be done within six months of the incident or last occurrence although in exceptional circumstances it may be extended for a further six months. Compensation of up to €6,348.70 can be awarded to the complainant and a course of action can be required of the person against whom the complaint was made who has a right of appeal to the Circuit Court.

Should you require any further information on the Equal Status Act, 2000 or the Employment Equality Act, 1998 please contact us.