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Costly Policies? Belfast woman wins £2,000 against concert security staff in diabetes discrimination case

A diabetic Belfast woman has been awarded £2,000 compensation after security staff at a concert confiscated her bottle of fizzy juice. Kayla Hanna, who was 18 at the time of the incident, was carrying Lucozade to provide glucose in the event that her blood sugar levels dropped. However, staff employed at a Red Hot Chilli Peppers concert in Belfast in 2016 confiscated this from her, despite her showing them her diabetes tattoos and insulin pack.

The security staff, employed by Eventsec, referred Miss Hanna to a strict policy which meant that they would not allow her to bring the bottled drink within the venue.

Following the event, Miss Hanna brought a disability discrimination case with the support of The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. The basis of her claim was that Eventsec had discriminated against her by failing to take reasonable steps to amend their policy which caused substantial disadvantage to disabled patrons. The Judge agreed with this claim and awarded her the sum of £2,000.

It should be pointed out that, whilst the policy of not allowing liquids into the concert could generally be considered justifiable and necessary, the fault of Eventsec lay in their failure to provide a reasonable adjustment of this policy when faced with the needs of a disabled patron. The duty to provide reasonable adjustments is imposed on service providers by The Equality Act 2010. In this case, one reasonable adjustment could have been for the security staff to direct Kayla to the medical tent within the venue to be provided with a bottle of Lucozade.

The case highlights how important it is for service providers to be familiar with their responsibilities under The Equality Act 2010. Whilst most will be aware of the non-discriminatory requirements towards employees, many may be unfamiliar with the extent of their duties towards patrons and may not have considered how a general policy could have unintended impact.

Firstly, service providers must be mindful that the duty not to discriminate does not only extend to disabled persons. The Act also protects non-disabled patrons where they are treated differently due to one of the following “protected characteristics”:

  • age (not applicable to those under the age of 18)
  • gender identity and gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Secondly, service providers should be aware of the wide spectrum of disabled persons who are protected from discrimination by the Act. A disability is defined as an impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Whilst this undoubtedly includes wheel chair users and those with hearing or sight impairments, this definition can also encompass a range of other conditions. Service providers should be particularly mindful of so-called “hidden disabilities” such as diabetes, epilepsy, dyslexia and mental health conditions, to name but a few.

The duty to provide reasonable adjustments is anticipatory, meaning that service providers should consider in advance how policies can be adjusted as opposed to waiting for customers to ask. We would encourage service providers to monitor policies and procedures on a regular basis to ensure that all patrons are being treated fairly. If a policy could be considered discriminatory, it need not be scrapped. Rather, service providers should be prepared to incorporate adjustments into their policies when the needs of patrons require this.

Often, simple adjustments can prove extremely effective in improving the equality of policies. For example, amending a “No Pets” policy to allow assistance dogs is effective and inexpensive. It is worth bearing in mind that adjustments need only be “reasonable”, taking a range of factors in to account including the size and nature of the business. Therefore, what may be reasonable to a national hotel chain may not be considered reasonable to an independently run guest house.  The advice would be, however, that service provider should adopt a holistic and pro-active approach. Where simple adjustments are available, alterations to the policy should be implemented without delay.

A key part of the effective implementation of flexible policies will undoubtedly lie in the continual training of staff. Staff should not only be familiar with individual policies and their application, but should also receive wider equality training to assist in handling such situations. Often, where a complaint is raised on the grounds of equality, the severity of the incident has been exacerbated by the approach and attitude adopted by staff. Encouraging an open-minded and flexible environment will no doubt assist in the promotion of equality amongst employees and their treatment of customers.

If you have any concerns about the equality of your policies, whether in relation to patrons or employees, or would like guidance on staff training, please contact a member of our employment team or visit our Discrimination in the Workplace page for additional information.

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