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Volunteers do not have protection from discrimination in law, Supreme Court rules

By David Ainsworth, Third Sector Online, 12 December 2012

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

Court upholds previous rulings against volunteer who claimed she was the victim of disability discrimination by Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau

Volunteers do not have protection from discrimination in law, five Supreme Court judges ruled unanimously today.

The court ruled on the case of X vs Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau, in which a volunteer claimed to be forced out of her role due to a chronic health condition, and wanted to bring a case for disability discrimination at an employment tribunal.

The employment tribunal ruled that she was unable to appeal under the Disability Discrimination Act because this did not apply to volunteers, a statement accompanying the judgment said.

It said X claimed her voluntary activities constituted an "occupation" under a European framework directive on anti-discrimination law, that "the protection against discrimination on the grounds of disability intended to be afforded by the directive should therefore extend to her", and that her case should be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

But the Supreme Court ruled that European law is clear that protection from discrimination does not extend to volunteers, and did not accept that volunteering was an occupation.

Lucy McLynn, a partner at Bates Wells & Braithwaite, who acted for the CAB, said that the judgment would be supported by charities. "Volunteers do not need legal protection," she said. "Employees and workers need to be protected against discrimination because they are reliant on earning a wage. But if a volunteer is discriminated against, they can leave and volunteer for another charity.

"The situation does self-regulate pretty effectively because a charity that is known to discriminate soon won’t have any more volunteers.

"This case is not about charities wanting to be allowed to discriminate against volunteers. No charity, however, wants to be in the position of being sued by volunteers who think they’ve been discriminated against."

The judgment said X’s case was opposed by both Acevo and Volunteering England, which said her case would "undermine the nature of volunteering, create practical barriers and additional costs for charities and other organisations in which volunteering occurs, and result in a formalisation they believe is unwanted by most volunteers".

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