Does European anti-discrimination law apply to volunteers?

26 Jan 2011

On 26 January 2011, the Court of Appeal handed down judgment in the case of X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau and others [2011] EWCA Civ 28.  The case concerned a volunteer worker at a Citizens Advice Bureau who alleged that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of her disability.  The relevant domestic law (at the time, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) did not apply to volunteers in the situation of X, who was providing services on a non-contractual basis and without remuneration.  However, it was argued for X that she was protected by the provisions of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (“the Framework Directive”).  It was argued that the domestic law did not correctly implement the provisions of European law in this respect.

The Court recognised that “the case raises an issue of some importance and interest to the voluntary sector”, and submissions were heard from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who holds responsibility for the relevant domestic legislation, as well as from the parties.

The Court of Appeal dismissed X’s appeal.  The Court held that the Framework Directive did not apply to volunteers in the position of X.  It rejected X’s argument that her work for the CAB was an “occupation” for the purposes of the Framework Directive.  The Court held that the Directive was plainly limited in its field of operation and that it was inconceivable that the draftsman of the Directive would not have dealt specifically with the position of volunteers if the intention had been to include them.  The Court also referred to and relied upon the legislative history of the Directive.  The Court refused to make a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Kassie Smith acted for the Secretary of State.

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Kassie Smith QC