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Influential report calls on government to fundamentally change the way discrimination claims are enforced

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has published a report which, if implemented, will radically change the way in which individuals who experience discrimination can enforce their rights.

The Committee believes that that organisations are not fearful of breaching the Equality Act and, in some cases, behave with 'impunity' because it is left to individuals to bring claims and most don't.

It calls for a fundamental change to the way in which equality is thought about and enforced so that individuals 'rarely' need to bring their own cases.

It recommends:

  1. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) must 'up their game' and help to make compliance the 'norm'. Specifically, it should use the enforcement powers it already has to drive change by intervening more often and then publishing information about these cases to act as a deterrent to other organisations.
  2. Indemnifying the EHRC against having to pay the other sides costs if it loses strategically important cases.
  3. Putting a mandatory duty on employers to protect workers from unlawful harassment and victimisation in the workplace enforceable by the EHRC and imposing substantial financial penalties on organisations that breach this.
  4. Requiring public sector employers to conduct risk assessments to identify unlawful harassment and to put in place plans to mitigate those risks.
  5. Requiring the EHRC to prioritise taking action against public authorities in England, Scotland and Wales that fail to implement their public sector equality duty. 
  6. Identifying a small number of examples of inequality or discrimination within the public sector and introducing new specific duties to tackle these.
  7. Imposing a legal duty on each government department to ensure that the public sector enforcement bodies they are responsible for (including regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen) use their powers to comply with the Equality Act

With regard to individual claims, it recommends:

  1. Increasing the numbers of people who receive legal aid funding to bring discrimination claims.
  2. Introducing exemplary damages (those that punish the wrongdoer rather than compensate the individual) against employers to deter them (and others) from ignoring problems.
  3. Introducing legislation so that courts and tribunals can make remedial orders that require employers to make organisational changes to avoid further discrimination.
  4. Publishing discrimination judgments made in the county court online.

It remains to be seen whether the government will implement these suggestions.