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Types of Discrimination

The Equality Act defines two primary types of discrimination:

Direct Discrimination happens when someone treats you less favourably specifically because you have a “protected characteristic,” such as gender reassignment.

Example: A pub operator bans you for no other reason than he claims that you being trans will make his other customers uncomfortable.

Example: A clothes shop will only allow you to use their changing rooms before or after hours.

Indirect Discrimination is a bit more complicated and harder to prove.  By definition, indirect discrimination is any rule, policy or practise, although uniformly enforced, which is written in such a manner as to disproportionately affect people with a protected characteristic. Unlike direct discrimination this type of discrimination can be justified if the measure is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. That means that there is a real reason for the policy, for example health and safety concerns, and there is no other less discriminatory measure that could be used as an alternative. Blanket policies are unlikely to meet this test.

Example: A school requires all students to wear a “gender appropriate” uniform (skirts for girls and trousers for boys).  This would appear to treat all students equally, yet transgender students are forced to choose between a uniform that, identifies them with a gender they feel they aren’t or to risk harassment by wearing a uniform that matches their gender identity.

Additionally, the Equality Act prohibits these other forms of discrimination:

Associative Discrimination is discrimination directed at someone for associating with someone who has a protected characteristic.

Perceptive Discrimination occurs when someone is discriminated against because it is believed that they have a particular protected characteristic.  This applies whether they have the characteristic or not.

It is important to understand that an organisation is liable for the behaviour of all of its employees and representatives.  The existence of policies prohibiting discrimination does not absolve the organisation of liability for discriminatory behaviour by any of its representatives.

Further information can be found at Equality Law; The Citizens Advice Bureau; and The Equality and Human Rights Commission