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Bus company wins appeal over disability discrimination claim

Posted: 13th January 2015   In: Business Employment

A bus company has won its appeal against a ruling that it had discriminated against a disabled passenger.

The issue arose after 36-year-old Doug Paulley from West Yorkshire was unable to board a bus because the area designated for wheelchairs was occupied by a woman and her baby who was in a buggy. The woman refused to move because her baby was sleeping.

The company involved, First Group Ltd, had a policy that in such cases, the person occupying the disabled space would be asked to move. However, if the person refused then nothing more was to be done and the disabled person would have to wait for the next bus.

Mr Paulley claimed that this policy contravened the Equality Act 2010, which requires companies to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. His claim was upheld by the County Court, which awarded him £5,500 damages.

However, that ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal. The court accepted the company’s submission that although it could alter its conditions of carriage, it would achieve nothing as it would not have the legal powers to enforce such conditions and compel other passengers to move.

The appeal judges also held that if the policy was amended, bus drivers would have to adjudicate between competing claims to the space. It would be unreasonable to require a driver to do this.

The court ruled that bus companies had to take all reasonable steps to help the disabled short of compelling passengers to move from the wheelchair space.

Lord Justice Underhill said: "It has to be accepted that our conclusion and reasoning in this case means that wheelchair users will occasionally be prevented by other passengers from using the wheelchair space on the bus.

"I do not, however, believe that the fact that some passengers will - albeit rarely - act selfishly and irresponsibly is a sufficient reason for imposing on bus companies a legal responsibility for a situation which is not of their making and which they are not in a position to prevent."

Please contact John Carter if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any other matters relating to anti-discrimination policies.