What is discrimination?

Discrimination is the act of prejudicial or unfair treatment against a particular category of people because they share a particular characteristic. The law has created a set of protected characteristics that cannot be used as a basis for discrimination.

If discrimination is based on any of these protected grounds, and cannot lawfully be justified then this can be the basis of a discrimination act and the cause of a legal claim.

Discrimination and the law

The introduction of the Equality Act 2010 has extended the protected characteristics in order to prevent a wider range of people suffering from discrimination. The law prohibits discrimination based on:

Where is discrimination prohibited?

Under the Equality Act 2010 discrimination is prohibited in the following areas:

  • Work
  • Education
  • Public services
  • Looking for housing

Types of discrimination

Discrimination falls into four main categories:

Direct discrimination – A direct and obvious discriminatory act against a person or group of people based upon one of the protected characteristics

Indirect discrimination – A more subtle form of direct discrimination that may seem neutral yet places a disadvantage on a person or group of people

Victimisation – Unfavourable treatment towards a person or group of people who have complained about discrimination

Harassment – Unwanted behaviour towards a particular person or group of people resulting in embarrassment or humiliation

Discrimination acts that can be justified

At times some acts that may at first glance appear to be illegal discrimination acts may actually not be. For example positive action is when a measure is carried out to help someone who has a protected characteristic; this is not a form of discrimination against those who do not have a protected characteristic as the grounds for positive action is to fulfil a legitimate and genuine aim.

Discrimination act claims

Anybody who feels they have been the victim of a discriminatory act in one of the prohibited areas should do something about it as they have had their rights infringed. Three main forms of action would be to:

  • Complain directly to the person or authorisation
  • Complain to another authoritative organisation who may be able to help such as ACAS if the discrimination was experienced at work
  • Contact a Solicitor and bring court or tribunal proceedings.