In EAD Solicitors LLP and ors v Abrams, the EAT has held that a limited company can bring a claim of direct discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The EAT rejected the argument that protection from discrimination under the Act is limited to individuals. Case law has established that an individual may complain of discriminatory treatment based on the protected characteristic of another person and there is no reason why this logic should not extend to companies.

A was a member of EAD, a limited liability partnership (LLP). As he approached retirement, he set up a limited company, of which he was the sole director. This company replaced A as a member of the LLP and took the profit share that A would have received had he continued, in return for which it supplied services to the LLP. Although the parties expected that A would usually provide these services through the company there was no obligation on him personally to do so, and he had no ongoing contractual relationship with the LLP. The LLP later became concerned about A providing services to it beyond the date at which he would ordinarily have retired. It objected to the limited company continuing as an LLP member. A considered that this gave rise to direct age discrimination and sought to bring a claim under the EqA. He presented a claim naming himself as first claimant and the company as second claimant.

An employment judge considered, as a preliminary issue, whether the limited company could bring a claim on the basis that had suffered detrimental treatment because of A’s age. The judge considered that the company was entitled to bring such a claim and so directed that the claim should proceed. The LLP appealed to the EAT. It argued, among other things, that since only individuals can have the protected characteristics listed in the EqA, only individuals are protected from discrimination.

Mr Justice Langstaff, President of the EAT, dismissed the appeal. He pointed out that the EqA does not deal with individuals on the basis of their protected characteristics but identifies discrimination as treatment caused by a protected characteristic or related to it. This is well established by case law, such as the EAT’s decision in EBR Attridge Law LLP v Coleman on ‘associative’ discrimination. Thus, any person, natural or legal, may suffer detrimental treatment and if the treatment is suffered because of an individual’s protected characteristic then it is potentially covered by the Act. Langstaff P also referred to the Interpretation Act 1978, which makes clear that the word ‘person’, when used in legislation, includes ‘a body of persons corporate or incorporate’ unless the contrary intention appears. No such contrary intention could be discerned in the EqA. Indeed, while S.27(4) EqA provides that only an individual may suffer victimisation, this is a specific exception which reinforces the view that, in general, the Act’s use of the word ‘person’ includes a corporation. The employment judge was therefore right to allow the claim to proceed. As to the long term impact of this case, it remains to be seen how far reaching the it will be. In your commenter’s view, it is likely that the long term impact will be small with the majority of claims under the EqA being made by individual employees rather than companies.

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