Supreme Court rules that volunteers not covered by EU discrimination law

12 Dec 2012

On 12 December 2012, the Supreme Court handed down judgment in the case of X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau.  The case concerned an Appellant who worked as a volunteer adviser at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (“CAB”). She was not contractually bound to work and received no remuneration for doing so. Although volunteers often did go on to become employed by the CAB as paid advisers, this was not automatic. There was an open, external recruitment process for paid posts and volunteering arrangements were not for the purpose of determining to whom employment should be offered. The Appellant alleged that, after she informed the CAB that she was HIV positive, she was told that she could not return to work. She claimed disability discrimination. As a preliminary issue, the Employment Tribunal determined that the Appellant was not within the scope of the Disability Discrimination Act’s definition of “employment”, because it did not cover voluntary work. The Appellant’s appeals to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, where argument focused more on the terms of the EC Framework Directive, were unsuccessful.

The Supreme Court also dismissed the appeal and held that the EU Discrimination Framework Directive (Directive 2000/78/EC) does not apply to unpaid volunteers in the position of the Appellant.  It held that it was not necessary to make a reference to the European Court in that regard. Given its conclusion on that substantive issue, the Supreme Court held that it was unnecessary to determine whether the Directive could have direct effect in domestic law between private parties.

Kassie Smith acted for the Secretary of State in the Supreme Court.

To view the judgment and the Supreme Court’s press release, please click here.