Discrimination service helps challenge disability discrimination due to Covid face mask regulations

Our Civil Legal Advice Discrimination service deals with clients from across England and Wales who have been treated unfairly in their day to day lives. The team works hard to help clients seek justice for these discriminatory acts. Here is a case study which shows how one of our advisers assisted a client to successfully negotiate a settlement for the disability discrimination he faced when unable to wear a face mask in public.

“You don’t look like you have a disability!”

Jack is a man with anxiety, who was prone to severe panic attacks related to an incident in his youth during which he was bound at the mouth. For this reason, he is exempt from wearing a face covering under the COVID-19 regulations.

In 2020, he was looking after his young grandson, who wanted an ice cream. Jack took his grandson into a local fast-food restaurant to buy him an ice cream and was refused service as he was not wearing a face covering.

The assistant manager of the restaurant began to quiz him about exactly why he was exempt, despite Jack stating he did not need to explain the ins and outs of his disability. He eventually felt pressured to explain himself and told her why he was exempt. However, he was still refused service, now being asked to provide proof.

 The assistant manager began to threaten him with fines and security guards and became aggressive with him, telling him “Boris says you have to wear a mask” and “You don’t look like you have a disability.”

As things escalated Jack’s grandson began to get upset, and after eventually leaving the restaurant Jack had a large panic attack whilst still looking after the child. The situation had such an impact on Jack’s mental health that he stopped leaving the house altogether, for fear that he would face the same treatment if he went to other restaurants or shops.

Fighting against harassment

In this case, there were clear breaches of The Equality Act 2010.

Under Section 26 of that Act, harassment is ‘unwanted conduct, related to a protected characteristic, which violates somebody’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them’. Jack had a clear argument for this, but due to his severe anxiety, felt unable to pursue the case alone.

We wrote to the restaurant, and when they would not engage, sent a letter before court action. They offered Jack an apology and a £20 voucher to eat there, which he felt did not reflect the distress caused to him. Following this, we entered negotiations whilst also raising Jack’s case “protectively” with the County Court, in order to ensure he did not miss his deadline for submitting a County Court claim.

After several months of negotiations with the restaurant and their insurers on Jack’s behalf, a £3000 settlement was secured, and the case was settled out of court.

Our impact

Jack was given detailed advice about his rights and options and the support to prepare letters to send to the restaurant. We helped negotiate a settlement and help Jack get closure on a difficult episode.

If you think you have an issue that the discrimination service could help with, click here

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