FLAC welcomes WRC decisions in favour of client who suffered discrimination after disclosing his HIV status.
13 December 2021
The Workplace Relations Commission yesterday issued decisions in two linked cases in favour of a man who suffered discrimination, contrary to the Equal Status Acts, after disclosing his HIV Status to a manager of an organic farm where he was volunteering. The complainant in the cases was represented by FLAC.
At the hearing of his complaints in November 2021, FLAC’s client (a US citizen) gave evidence of travelling to Ireland in June 2019 after arranging to volunteer on an organic farm in rural Ireland through a registered educational charity. After he disclosed his HIV status to a partner in the organic farm, he was told that he could not continue to work on the farm and he was asked to leave immediately. He was refused access to showers on the farm, as well as access to the internet to arrange his travel home. He gave evidence that he was “humiliated and distressed by his experience as he was literally stranded in a foreign country, unwashed with no money, and only soiled farm clothes to wear”.
On foot of the incident, that man sought the support of HIV Ireland who identified that the man may have been subject to unlawful discrimination and referred him to FLAC. FLAC lodged a complaint on his behalf under the Equal Status Acts against the organic farm and the educational charity. The WRC upheld both complaints. The WRC Adjudicator ordered the organic farm to pay the man €8,000 in compensation after finding that their conduct was “unacceptable and transgressed not only the law, but was also below the threshold of acceptable conduct that reasonable people expect when affording equal opportunity to those with a disability”. In a separate decision, the Adjudicator noted that there was no “evidence of a meaningful investigation into the material facts as to what transpired at a host farm” by the educational charity (referred to in the decision as an “organic farm training association”). The charity was ordered to carry out an independent audit of its inclusivity policies and to draft a comprehensive equality and diversity policy.
The decisions were anonymised to protect the identity of FLAC’s client.
FLAC Managing Solicitor, Sinéad Lucey, welcomed the decisions today:
“The decisions of the WRC in these cases represents an important victory for FLAC’s client, as well a victory against the HIV-related stigma and discrimination which persists in Ireland to this day.”
The effectiveness of the Equal Status Acts is currently being reviewed by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Calls for a review of Ireland’s equality legislation were led by FLAC. In the context of that review (as well as the upcoming review of the Civil Legal Aid scheme), FLAC has called for legal aid to be made available in discrimination cases. At present, the Legal Aid Board cannot provide representation in cases heard by the Workplace Relations Commission (which deals with most discrimination cases at first instance).
FLAC Chief Executive, Eilis Barry, commented:
“These decisions underscore the importance of equality legislation as a tool to combat discrimination and promote equality. The decision highlights the advantages of the broad and inclusive definition of ‘disability’ in the Equality Acts, as well as the significant powers of WRC Adjudicators to make orders which can bring about transformative change.
However, it is unlikely that FLAC’s client would have been able to bring these cases without legal representation, and the absence of legal aid for discrimination cases must be urgently addressed. At present, the Legal Aid Board cannot provide representation in discrimination cases heard by the WRC, regardless of the severity or complexity of the case, or the particular vulnerability of the complainant. The right to equality, as protected under the Equality Acts, the Constitution, and European and international law, is meaningless unless the right of access to justice is also upheld, including through access to legal representation.”
Notes to Editor
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an Irish human rights organisation, which exists to promote equal access to justice.
Decisions of the Workplace Relations Commission:
Trainee v Organic Farm [ADJ-00025701]: https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2021/november/adj-00025701.html
Trainee Organic Farmer v Organic Farming Training Association [ADJ-00025708]: https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2021/november/adj-00025708.html
The Equal Status Acts
The Equal Status Acts 2000-2018 prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods and services, accommodation and education on the nine grounds of gender, marital status, family status, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, religion, and membership of the Traveller community.
In June 2021, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth announced that his Department would conduct a comprehensive review of Ireland’s equality code with a view to “[bringing] legislative proposals to Government in 2022”. This will constitute the first full review of the Equal Status Acts and Employment Equality Acts since their introduction over twenty years ago.