Can You Really Afford to Ignore the Equality Act?

A recent case of blatant homophobia has brought the Equality Act 2010 into sharp focus. The story begins back in March 2010. A gay couple, Michael Black and John Morgan who have been together for 8 years had booked a double room in good faith at the Swiss B&B in Cookham, Berkshire. 

They were no doubt really looking forward to meeting their friends and seeing a local play as they had arranged. On arrival at the B&B, the couple were turned away. Why? Because they just happened to be in a same sex relationship.

They were turned away from a B&B which proudly states on it’s website “A warm & friendly welcome awaits all guests..” Clearly, this doesn’t apply to couples in same sex relationships.

At the time many other B&B owners offered their support to the couple and even offered to put them up for free. I guess they must have been appalled by this behaviour from someone in the same industry and didn’t want it to reflect badly on their business.

The case has now been resolved in Reading County Court. The result being that the couple have been awarded a total of £3600 for “injury to feelings”. A small, but very welcome victory.

I do find it quite disturbing that despite the legislation we have in place and all the equality education that has taken place over a number of years; that people who provide services to the public continue to believe that it is ok to discriminate against people because of a perceived difference. Indeed the owner admitted that she turned the couple away because it was against her policy to accommodate same sex couples. This is clearly a case of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation (which is a ‘protected characteristic’ recognised in the Equality Act 2010).

I believe that this is not an isolated incident and there are probably many more waiting to be uncovered once a complaint is lodged against the service provider.
For the purpose of removing doubt; the Equality Act 2010 applies to “any person or organisation that provides a service to members of the public.”
“It also does not matter if the service is provided free of charge or is paid for.”

A little practical example which I’m sure occurs all the time. A potential customer calls you up and asks for your advice on a subject related to your area of expertise. You are quite happy to give some telephone advice free of charge. Are you aware that this information is covered under the Equality Act 2010?

My question to businesses, companies and organisations out there is; can you afford to ignore your obligations under the Equality Act 2010? Indeed, are you aware of your obligations as required by the Act?

It really does not matter if you are running a B&B or a multi-national company; the law is there to protect people from discrimination and it is totally unacceptable for people running a business to refuse to provide a service because of someone’s sexual orientation.